Inner Religion in Jewish Sources: A Phenomenology of Inner Religious Life and Its Manifestation from the Bible to Hasidic Texts 2020015847, 2020015848, 9781644694299, 9781644694305, 9781644694312

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Inner Religion in Jewish Sources: A Phenomenology of Inner Religious Life and Its Manifestation from the Bible to Hasidic Texts
 2020015847, 2020015848, 9781644694299, 9781644694305, 9781644694312

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Inner Religion in Jewish Sources A Phenomenology of Inner Religious Life and Its Manifestation from the Bible to Hasidic Texts

Emunot: Jewish Philosophy and Kabbalah Series Editor Dov Schwartz (Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan) Editorial Board Ada Rapoport Albert (University College, London) Gad Freudenthal (CNRS, Paris) Gideon Freudenthal (Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv) Moshe Idel (Hebrew University, Jerusalem) Raphael Jospe (Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan) Ephraim Kanarfogel (Yeshiva University, New York) Menachem Kellner (Haifa University, Haifa) Daniel Lasker (Ben Gurion University, Beer Sheva)


Inner Religion in Jewish Sources A Phenomenology of Inner Religious Life and Its Manifestation from the Bible to Hasidic Texts Ron Margolin Translated by Edward Levin



Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Margolin, Ron, author. | Levin, Edward (Translator), translator. Title: Inner religion in Jewish sources : a phenomenology of inner religious life and its manifestation from the Bible to Hasidic texts / Ron Margolin ; translated by Edward Levin. Other titles: Dat ha-penimit Description: Boston : Academic Studies Press, 2021. | Series: Emunot: Jewish philosophy and Kabbalah | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2020015847 (print) | LCCN 2020015848 (ebook) | ISBN 9781644694299 (hardback) | ISBN 9781644694305 (adobe pdf) Subjects: LCSH: Jewish philosophy--21st century. | Judaism--Philosophy. | Hasidism--Philosophy. | Phenomenology. Classification: LCC B5800 .M3613 2020 (print) | LCC B5800 (ebook) | DDC 204.01--dc23 LC record available at LC ebook record available at ISBN 9781644694299 (hardback) ISBN 9781644694305 (adobe pdf) ISBN 9781644694312 (ePub) Copyright © 2021 Academic Studies Press All rights reserved. Book design by Lapiz Digital Services. Cover design by Ivan Grave. On the cover: Marc Chagall, Jacob's Ladder (Genesis 28:12). Etching, hand-coloured, on Arche Vellum. From the series Bible, Marc Chagall, Editions Verve, Paris,1956. © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris Published by Academic Studies Press 1577 Beacon Street Brookline, MA 02446, USA [email protected]

In loving memory of my wife Amalia


Prefaceix Introduction1 Part One: Ritual and Custom Chapter 1. Ritual Interiorization and Intent for Commandments

57 59

Part Two: Emotion, Sensation, and Experience Introduction: The Meaning of Ecstatic Experience and Mystical Experience in the Study of Religion Chapter 2. Prophecy, Dreams, and Other Paranormal Experiences Chapter 3. Introspective Contemplation and Inward Focusing


Part Three: Thinking about the Inner Introduction: Interiorization in Religious Thought Chapter 4. The Conceptual Interiorization of Myth and Law Chapter 5. Existential Aspects of Inner Religious Life Chapter 6. Epistemological Interiorization

261 263 267 341 447

159 173 211

Afterword: The Immanent Testimony to the Transcendental 511 Bibliography543 Index of Subjects 585 Index of Names 591 Index of Sources 596


This book, based on my research into the phenomenology of inner religious life, is a study of six categories of interiorization found in Judaism and other religions. The developments that have occurred in these religions, different though they may be in substance, reveal the common motif of religious interiorization. A phenomenology such as this cannot encompass all facts and properties, of course, but that is the price of innovating tools for research. In recent decades, studies of comparative religion have frequently been attacked for ignoring interreligious distinctions and for focusing instead only on the phenomena they share. However valid this criticism may be, it does more harm than good to deny any value at all to comparative studies. Dismissing comparative studies as reductive cannot obscure the fact that there is a deep structure common to religious phenomena. The six categories I propose in this book are not total or absolute, but they cast a conceptual and theoretical net that facilitates discussion of religious interiorization and inner religious life. The phenomenology of inner life as it applies to Jewish sources enables us to observe the uncertainties of the place and value of inner life for a religion in which a transcendent and heteronomic obligation to fulfill the commandments is central. The focus on inner religious life in Judaism and other world religions does not spring from a denial of their outer social, institutional, prescriptive, and ritual aspects. The immanence of the psyche engages even those who are not inclined to relate the social, theological, or legal aspects of religion to other important elements in human existence that are addressed in religious sources in general and in Jewish sources in particular. The book’s introduction elucidates the underlying concepts of this phenomenology. It explains the distinction between inner and external



religion, between inner religious life and religious interiorization, and between understanding psychology and psychologizing, and it reviews the philosophical background of the concepts of inwardness in the study of religion. The introduction explains a range of Jewish concepts regarding inwardness in Judaism and the role of comparative research in this work. Throughout the book, I examine multiple sources, above all Jewish sources which reflect inner religious life in Judaism. Each chapter culminates in examples from Hasidic writings to validate the claim that a religious development from the Bible to Talmudic literature, medieval philosophy, and Kabbalistic thought reached its peak in them. To some degree this structure challenges the conventional format of Jewish studies and the study of religion based on an essential distinction between the sources of different historical periods and literary genres. In the field of Jewish Studies, this is particularly evident in the classification of sources into discrete categories: biblical, halakhic, midrashic, philosophical, or Kabbalistic. The chronological arrangement of Jewish sources in my study does not change the fact that they are drawn from different historical periods and intellectual contexts, yet the inner religious aspects they share justify the comparative approach I have taken. Reading these sources in light of diverse forms of interiorization breaks down the tall barriers often constructed by researchers between different types of sources and affords a more integrative view. The phenomenological methodology I have used here, in the spirit of Gerard van der Leeuw, the phenomenologist of religion, requires a clear differentiation between the depiction of phenomena and a philosophical discussion of their significance. I have left the discussion for the final chapter, elucidated through my own philosophical understandings of many matters in the book which grew out of dialogs with a long list of contemporary thinkers and scholars. In particular I wish to thank my friends and colleagues and the institutions that assisted me in writing this book: Moshe Idel, who encouraged me in my decision to publish the book in its present format, and whose studies I address here and agree with more often than not; Avi Sagi, who proposed the publication of this book in the Hebrew series, Parshanut ve Tarbut, interpretation and culture, which he edits for Bar Ilan University press, who supported me all the way and whose important works informed the writing of this book, particularly the concluding chapter; my colleagues at Tel Aviv University’s religious studies program and the Department of


Jewish Philosophy and Talmud. For many contributions to the thoughts that crystallized here, a true cross-fertilization of ideas, I wish to thank my seminar students over the years at Tel Aviv University and the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Special thanks go to Donniel Hartman, president of the Hartman Institute, where many of these pages were written, for supporting the Hebrew and the English editions of the book. For our long conversations and shared reflections I gratefully dedicate this book to my late wife Amalia, to our sons Jonathan and Ayal, and to my mother Yael Peled-Margolin. Heartfelt thanks go to the translator of the Hebrew book into English, Edward Levin, and to Jeremy Fogel, a true friend who helped with the reading of the manuscript. Many thanks as well go to the Yoran Schnitzer Foundation for Research in Jewish History and to the Jewish Studies School of Tel Aviv University. Finally I wish to thank Dov Schwartz, editor of this series and to the directors and staff of Academic Studies Press for their dedicated work in publishing this book. Tel Aviv 2020



Inner Religion Like all human culture, the phenomenon of religion exists on two planes: the outer social expanse and the inner mental realm, which is focused upon the individual’s inner life. The study of religion, which significantly developed in the second half of the nineteenth century, usually distinguishes between sociological-anthropological research on religion and psychological-phenomenological inquiry. The first approach is concerned with religion as a social and objective phenomenon, independent of the private, subjective thoughts and conceptions of individuals. For example, the social anthropologist Edward Evans-Pritchard lists three aspects of religion that, from the sociological perspective developed by Emil Durkheim, give it its objective nature: Firstly, it is transmitted from one generation to another, so if in one sense it is in the individual, in another it is outside him, in that it was there before he was born and will be there after he is dead. He acquires it as he acquires his language, by being born into a particular society. Secondly, it is, at any rate in a closed society, general. Everyone has the same sort of religious beliefs and practices, and their generality, or collectivity, gives them an objectivity which places them over and above the psychological experience of any individual, or indeed of all individuals. Thirdly, it is obligatory. Apart from positive and negative sanctions, the mere fact that religion is general means, again in a closed society, that it is obligatory, for even if there is no coercion, a man has no option but to accept what everybody gives assent to, because he has no choice, any more than of what language he speaks. Even were he to be a skeptic, he could express his doubts only in terms of the beliefs held by



all around him. And had he been born into a different society, he would have had a different set of beliefs, just as he would have had a different language.1

The second approach focuses on the mental, and therefore more subjective, facets of religious life, that is, the conscious and direct contents of the individual’s subjective life, which religion influences either as part of social norms, or due to a personal choice that is independent of social religious conditioning. According to Durkheim, “[a] religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things which are set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.”2 In this sociological conception, the significance of religious beliefs and practices does not lie in their contents, but in the fact that they create social cohesion. Unlike this notion, the study of inner religious life is attentive to the manner in which the contents of religious beliefs and practices impart meaning to the life of the individual, apart from their contribution to social cohesion. The literary-historical research of religious texts, accompanied by the anthropological testimonies that assumed increasing importance in the first half of the twentieth century, provide the data for discussions of both the social and psychological aspects of religion. The distinction between exterior and interior religion does not imply a substantive division between these two planes. As a general rule, the two levels are intertwined and mutually supportive. In his discussion of the religious experience, which he based on Max Scheler’s work, van der Leeuw noted that there can be no inner without the outer. No emotion exists without its accompanying speech and posture, and every thought is associated with form and action. Consequently, he argues, we cannot speak of “institutionalized religion” as the antithesis of inner religious experience.3 Van der Leeuw developed the conception of “inward action” to show that every experience is both outer and inner. Moreover, each experience can be examined from two different perspectives: that of expression, which is the outer point of view, and that of impression, which is the inner aspect.4 1 Edward E. Evans-Pritchard, Theories of Primitive Religion (Oxford: Clarendon, 1965), 54–55. 2 Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Experience (London: Allen and Unwin, 1976), 47. 3 Gerardus van der Leeuw, Religion in Essence and Manifestation: A Study in Phenomenology, trans. J. E. Turner (London: Allen and Unwin, 1938), 459–60. 4 Ibid., 460.


Although I agree with the fundamental understanding that every outer aspect has an adjoining inner aspect, and vice versa, in the reality of religious life, the idyllic inner plane, which reflects an exalted inwardness, is often detached from the plane of outer life, which reflects reality as it is. In many instances, there is a disparity between the outer aspect of religious behaviors and the inner facet ascribed to those behaviors that emerges from a study of the religious texts discussing those aspects. In some instances, each plane is almost totally detached from the other and exists independently. A certain activity, such as the offering of a sacrifice or public prayer, which is meant to give expression to religious sentiments of thanks and praise, could easily become an exclusively social act. In such a situation this action would express—in terms of the inner world of the sacrificer or public worshiper—social solidarity or aesthetic pleasure and remain indifferent to any religious gratitude. That is to say, outer activities are always accompanied by inner contents, but these contents are not necessarily identical with the inner meaning that the religious literature prescribes for these activities. Some people are defined as religious on the basis of their outer social behaviors—even when their religious conduct is detached from the inner meanings given by the religious texts themselves. Other people, in contrast, express no religious practices and affiliation in their outer lives but ascribe a central place to religious contents in their inner lives. Externally, these people do not seem to belong to any religious culture. Such extreme dissonances in the life and worldview of many people, with, perhaps, a growing prominence in recent generations, in itself justifies the distinction between exterior and interior religious life. Obviously, even if we assume that van der Leeuw correctly objects to the bifurcation between the outer and inner facets of religious life, this artificial division for the purposes of study should still contribute to a better understanding of religious life as a whole. But if, as I have argued, the frequent partial or almost total detachment between exterior and interior religious life does in fact occurs, then the distinction between exterior and interior religious life is valid and essential for a deeper understanding of the subjective and mental aspect of religious life.

Inner Religion and the Concept of the Subject The Western investigation of inner religion with philosophical, phenomenological, and/or psychological tools is directly related to the enhanced




standing of the self and of subjectivity in Western culture. Charles Taylor argues in his book The Sources of the Self that the contrast between the inner and the outer dimensions shapes the languages in which we express our self-understanding: We think of our thoughts, ideas, or feelings as being “within” us, while the objects in the world which these mental states bear on are “without”. Or else we think of our capacities or potentialities as “inner”, awaiting the development which will manifest them or realize them in the public world. The unconscious is for us within, and we think of the depths of the unsaid, the unsayable, the powerful inchoate feelings and affinities and fears which dispute with us the control of our lives, as inner. We are creatures with inner depths; with partly unexplored and dark interiors. . . . But strong as this partitioning of the world appears to us, as solid as this isolation may seem, and anchored in the very nature of the human agent, it is in large part a feature of our world, the world of modern, Western people.5

Kantian philosophy, the second Copernican revolution in European thought, sought to rescue the objective status of science in Western culture. However, in reality it contributed to the ascent of subjectivity as establishing consciousness. In the twentieth century, subjectivity became not only the focus of many philosophical teachings, but also the base for the meteoric rise of psychology in general, especially psychoanalysis. The personality theory developed by Freud on the basis of Plato’s discussions of the soul in Phaedrus emphasized the dark sides of the inner self that had been repressed by “reason” especially because of enlightened thought. These aspects were depicted in ancient and medieval thought as passions, or as independent entities that presumably invade the individual’s inner world in order to dominate it. Freud included these facets in his comprehensive theory of personality. [M]en are not gentle creatures who want to be loved, and who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a result, their neighbor is for them 5 Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 111. Taylor’s book is devoted in its entirety to a clarification of this issue. For an additional discussion, see Jerrold Seigel, The Idea of the Self: Thought and Experience in Western Europe since the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).


not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on them, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and kill him. Homo homini lupus. Who, in the face of all his experience of life and history, will have the courage to dispute this assertion?6

Freud revealed the id, the repressed instinctual element in man, and included it in man’s self-perception: it demanded close examination. This expanded understanding of the inner self contributed, inter alia, to the rise of new trends in Western culture that to a considerable degree discarded the fundamental tenets of enlightened thought. Despite his declared secularism, Freud contributed greatly to the increased interest in the approach of various religions to the instinctual dark forces within man. Despite Taylor’s claim that the distinction between the inner and outer elements of the self is characteristic of modern Western thought, some Western scholars question this division. For instance, the concept of intentionality developed by Edmund Husserl (1859–1938), based on the thought of his teacher Franz Brentano, who went beyond formal logic and psychologization, undermines the classical distinction between object and subject. In a new definition of subjectivity, Husserl argues that all consciousness is intentional, that is, directed to what is outside the subject rather than the supposed depths within.7 This line of thought influenced a series of twentieth-century German and French philosophers. Husserl does not negate the subject, or the understanding of the inner-outer dichotomy, but rather corrects the Western understanding of its nature. The postmodernist philosopher Michel Foucault completely denies the existence of the subject, and with it the division of outer and inner, subjective and objective reality. In practice, postmodernists attempted to undermine the psychoanalytical conception of subjectivity. They denied the very possibility of speaking about an independent inner human essence. 6 Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, trans. James Strachey (New York: Norton, 1961), 58. 7 On intentionality in Brentano’s teachings, see Jan Pavlik, “Brentano’s Theory of Intentionality,” Brentano Studien 3 (1991): 63–70. On intentionality in Husserl’s thought, see McIntyre and Woodruff, “Theory of Intentionality,” in Husserl’s Phenomenology: A Textbook, ed. J. N. Mohanty and William R. McKenna (Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1989), 147–79; and in greater detail idem, Husserl and Intentionality: A Study of Mind, Meaning, and Language (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1982).




First and foremost, their argument was an attack on the great project of the Enlightenment, which championed the concept of the “subject” in its original meaning—“what is located under”—as the heroic founding focus of human experience and action. Foucault’s writings posit the subject as a fiction, the product of social and cultural forces. It has no inner essence or universal validity; it is changing, fluid, and has many faces. [The subject] is not a substance; it is a form and this form is not above all or always identical to itself. You do not have towards yourself the same kind of relationship when you constitute yourself as a political subject who goes and votes or speaks up in a meeting, and when you try to fulfill your desires in a sexual relationship. . . . In each case, we play, we establish with one’s self some different form of relationship.8

According to the postmodernists, our identity is a construction of the culture in which we live, of the social order into which we are born. This culture gives us the linguistic tools and the symbolic codes with which we think about ourselves and about the world. Does the acknowledgement of these conditioning brings into question the existence of the hidden inner essence of man? Emil Durkheim, the founder of the French sociological tradition, first conceived the self as and entity fashioned by society. His thought formed the base of French structuralism and influenced both the anthropological school of Claude Levi-Strauss and the linguistic movement following de Saussure. Despite Foucault’s insistence on the difference between his conception and the structuralism of Levi-Strauss and de Saussure,9 his objections to the essentiality of the subject attest to his affinity with structuralist 8 Raul Fornet-Betancourt et al., “The Ethic of Care for the Self as a Practice of Freedom: An Interview with Michel Foucault on January 20, 1984,” Philosophy & Social Criticism 12 (1987): 121. My thanks to Asaf Sagiv for drawing my attention to this source. 9 “If I suspended all reference to the speaking object, it was not to discover laws of construction or forms that could be applied in the same way by all speaking objects, nor was it to give voice to the great universal discourse that is common to all men at a particular period. On the contrary, my aim was to show what the differences consisted of, how it was possible for men, within the same discursive practice, to speak of different objects, to have contrary opinions, and to make contradictory choices; my aim was also to show in what way discursive practices were distinguished from one another; in short, I wanted not to exclude the problem of the subject, but to define the positions and functions that the subject could occupy in the diversity of discourse” (Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith [New York: Pantheon, 1972], 200).


thought. Apparently, Durkheim’s sociology exerted greater influence on this way of thinking than Foucault himself was willing to admit. The waves spread especially by the postmodernist critique of the subject intensify the ongoing discussion about its existence and nature. To quote Jacques Derrida: “This question of the subject and the living ‘who’ is at the heart of the most pressing concerns of modern societies.”10 Indeed, debates about which of the two factors, environment or heredity (“nature or nurture”), is more central in constructing the personality rest on two worldviews with different consequences in terms of values, determinism, and indeterminism and free will. Similarly, the disagreement between sociology and psychology is predicated upon fundamental axiological differences between the two disciplines, and is not simply a matter of scientific dispute. However, since both of these perspectives are firmly focused on reality, this philosophical and ethical divergence is concealed behind the appearance of their objectivity. Sociological and postmodernist views, which see the self as a product of social conditioning, are more deterministic. They grudgingly accept the anarchistic or nihilistic conclusions that follow from the idea that the individual is motivated by a social and cultural conditioning over which he or she has no control. Philosophical and psychological views that stress the substantiality of inner man assume the existence of free will and rationality. In short, these intellectual positions forestall the idea that the subject is a field of opposing forces in favor of a model of the subject as an essential entity despite everything. Strengthening the awareness of the subject to himself is central to preventing this disintegration of the subject for such philosophies. According to Durkheim and his followers, the future of culture is conditional upon its ability to create secular mechanisms that will substitute the unifying force of traditional religious rites and preserve social cohesion in new ways. For Freud and his disciples, the future of culture is dependent upon the ability of individuals to correctly manage their inner world through the conscious illumination of the dark elements at work within them. At the end of the twentieth century, the subject was declared dead by postmodernists. This statement could be compared with Nietzsche’s 10 Jacques Derrida, “‘Eating Well,’ or the Calculation of the Subject: An Interview with Jacques Derrida,” in Who Comes after the Subject?, ed. Eduardo Cadava, Peter Connor, and Jean-Luc Nancy (New York: Routledge, 1991), 115. See also Nick Mansfield, Subjectivity: Theories of the Self from Freud to Haraway (New York: New York University Press, 2000).




proclamation of the death of God in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Aaron David Gordon said of Nietzsche’s declaration: “All that died was the obsolete and fossilized concept concerning God, but not God, not the unknown that you encounter whenever you think and feel, but which cannot be perceived or attained, that you run into whenever you live yourself, whenever you feel, think, speak, without knowing what it is and from where it comes.”11 Similar sentiments could be voiced about the death of the subject: the concept that became obsolete and fossilized might have died at the end of the twentieth century, but not the subject that you encounter within yourself whenever you think and feel.

On the History of Interest in Inner Religion Beginning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Western culture showed increased interest in the connection between religion and the inner psychological life of the individual.12 This interest was sparked by the search for new forms of religious life, as sociologists by extensive 11 Aaron David Gordon, Man and Nature [Heb] Edited by Yuval Jobani and Ron Margolin (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2020), 94. Gordon (1856–1922) was both a Torah scholar and an autodidact maskil (member of the Jewish Enlightenment) born in the Ukraine. In 1904, at the age of forty-eight, he joined a group of young pioneers from Eastern Europe who, including David Ben-Gurion and other later founders of the State of Israel, immigrated to the Land of Israel, in order to work as an agricultural laborer. He was an important thinker who lived among these young people and joined the group that founded the first kibbutz, Deganyah, near the Sea of Galilee. His outstanding personality and thought influenced the founding generation of the State of Israel. His original existentialist philosophy was marked by spiritual-religious searching. Gordon took an interest in Buddhism and was erudite in modern philosophy and Russian literature. 12 The rise of individualism and subjectivity characteristic of Western society in recent decades is expressed, inter alia, in the Western citizens’ inclination to limit their commitment to external authorities and to compliance with the laws of the country in which they live. This limitation usually entails denying the right of other external authorities, such as religious establishments, to fashion the individual’s life in areas not essential to the existence of the state, such as sexual and marital matters, or the realm of opinions and beliefs. The elevation of subjectivity and the modern concept of the self to fashioners of the individual’s reality has greatly weakened the force of the allegedly objective revelation standing at the basis of the historical revealed religions, and especially the monotheistic religions. Since these religions justify the moral and religious demands of their faith communities by force of such claims, it is not surprising that the enhanced standing of subjectivity corresponds to the decline in the coercive power of the religious authority, which argues for a transcendental and objective source of its power. Personal experience and subjective considerations have


secularization paradigms predicted a bleak future for institutional religion in the modern world.13 By revealing the subjective psychological contents of the religious individual, thinkers such as William James and Rudolf Otto showed that modern man could come into personal contact with religious life, while disregarding its institutionalized and social aspects. These elements of religion were increasingly perceived as external only, devoid of inner psychological meaning, and irrelevant for the modern social outer life that replace organized religion. This interest began in the early nineteenth century, with those European philosophers who were profoundly affected by the Romanticism of thinkers such as Friedrich Schelling (1775–1854), Christian Friedrich von Schlegel (1772–1829), and Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834). The works of Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855), the father of religious existentialism, who was influenced by these writers, are among the cornerstones of the conception of inner religion. In the second half of that century, this trend was continued by Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900). Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra presented the prophet of a new religion who showed an alternative way to affirm life. Nietzsche’s call was like the little boy’s claim that the king is naked in Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” For Nietzsche, Christianity in the second half of the nineteenth century had become a petrified system of social practices, devoid of any inner meaning and no longer joyful. Accordingly, Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God, in order to make room for something new. This declaration, along with the rise of existentialist philosophy, gave significant momentum to the study of psychology at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. On the one hand, twentieth-century psychoanalysis fueled the psychologization of religion. This development questioned the transcendental axioms at the basis of the monotheistic religions. Freud, who regarded religion as produced by obsessive neuroses and the Oedipus complex, argued for its substitution by psychoanalytical thought, which would be more successful in healing man’s ills. Jung, who identified the divine with an archetype within the collective unconscious, ascribed great importance become the decisive factor in the individuals’ decisions, especially as regards their private life. 13 For a current formulation of the secularization paradigm, see Olivier Tschannen, “The Secularization Paradigm: A Systematization,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 36 (1997): 109–22.




to religious content that he found in dreams and myths. However, he also used this content reductively, in order to improve his therapeutic method.14 Jung stated that his approach to religion was based on an empirical objective point of view: “Psychological existence is subjective in so far as an idea occurs in only one individual. But it is objective in so far as that idea is shared by a society—by a consensus gentium.”15 According to Jung, a religious symbol is not a signifier that attests to the nature of an outer god; rather, it is a collective human expression of a religious content that occurs empirically in the individual psyche. Other researchers, influenced by philosophy and psychology, different than that of Freud, were more positive in their understanding of the nature of religion and its place in modern life. The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James is one of the foundational books on the psychological aspects of the religious phenomenon. James’s fundamental assumption was that the external and institutionalized aspects of different religions could be separated from the inner, psychological processes occurring in people who report religious experiences. His position was that although inner life is inextricably bound to its outer expression, differentiating between the two components is possible by way of the study of religion. James stated that mental occurrences are existential and irrefutable facts, and that their existence could not be questioned by philosophy. Therefore, subjective religious experience could provide the base for the examination of the reality of inner religious life.16 At the beginning of the twentieth century Georg Simmel, in his book Sociology of Religion, analyzed the difference between institutionalized religion and natural religiosity.17 His student Martin Buber developed this distinction and defined religiosity as natural religious sentiment and religion 14 See Carl G. Jung, Psychology and Religion, trans. R. F. C. Hull (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969). On the debate between Buber and Jung, see Judith Buber Agassi, Martin Buber on Psychology and Psychotherapy (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1999), 34–71, 201–24; Martin Buber, “Religion and Modern Thinking,” in Buber, Eclipse of God: Studies in the Relation Between Religion and Philosophy (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press International, 1988) , 63–92. 15 Jung, Psychology and Religion, 6. 16 William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1928). See especially lecture 2, 26–52. 17 Georg Simmel, Sociology of Religion, trans. Curt Rosenthal (New York: Philosophical Library, 1959), 23–24. See also Simmel, Essays on Religion, ed. and trans. Horst Jurgen Helle with Ludwig Nieder (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 20–25, 121–33.


as the external framework into which this sentiment is placed.18 In I and Thou, which was initially planned as an introduction to the study of religion, Buber formulated this disparity in a more fundamental manner. His conception was based on the distinction between I-Thou relations, and I-It relations, characterized a pragmatic, instrumental attitude to the other and to the reality. In religious terms, an I-Thou relationship is the foundation for inner religion, and especially for the encounter between man and God, whom Buber calls the “eternal Thou.” The I-It relations provide the basis for orientation in the world and outer life, including outer religion. At the same time, other scholars of religion, such as Rudolf Otto in The Idea of the Holy and Friedrich Heiler in Prayer, focused on specific aspects of inner religious life, such as Otto’s various elements of the “numinous” state of mind. Furthermore, the nineteenth century, and even more so the twentieth century, saw increased interest in studies of mystical experience in various religions, especially in Indian and east Asian traditions. This trend should be viewed in the same context as the growth of interest in religion and the inner mental life of the individual. The research into Christian and Sufi mysticism focused on the inner world of mystics and the works that they produced following particular experiences. The increased Western interest in the Indian Upanishads, Buddhism, and Zen Buddhism is directly related to the idea that, in contrast with the major monotheistic religions, these religions are firmly based on inner experience. The Gnostic groups that existed throughout the Roman Empire in the first three centuries CE aroused special interest among German-speaking intellectuals in the first decades of the twentieth century. This interest started with the German theologian Adolf Harnack19 and continued with philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, psychologists like C. G. Jung, and scholars of religion such as Gershom Scholem, who searched for Gnostic parallels 18 My distinction between outer and inner religion is influenced by Simmel and Buber, but is not identical to their theses. Simmel and Buber’s concept of religiosity refers to the natural, unconditional sentiment within religious frameworks, which is also the source of institutionalized religious behaviors. The concept of “inner religion” is more expansive and includes various aspects of religions that are focused on the inner lives of their faithful. The distinction between inner and outer religion takes place within the religious realm itself, while the distinction between religion and religiosity tends, either consciously or unwittingly, to divide between the institutionalized and personal, emotional elements and to highlight the disparity between them. 19 Adolf Harnack, Marcion: The Gospel of the Alien God, trans. John E. Steely and Lyle D. Bierma (Durham: Labyrinth Press, 1990).




in Kabbalah. Hans Jonas’s book on Gnostic religion, based on a doctoral dissertation that he wrote under the guidance of Heidegger and Rudolf Bultman, inspired many twentieth-century studies on ancient Gnosticism. The draw of this phenomenon for the above thinkers is undoubtedly connected to the Gnostics’ extreme absorption with inner religious life. Gershom Scholem’s research activity, discussed in greater detail below, began with an examination of Sefer ha-Bahir,20 which he perceived as a work of a Gnostic disposition. Although Scholem devoted greater attention to the Kabbalists’ theosophic and esoteric teachings than to their inner experiences, his early interest in the Kabbalah was no doubt fed by his search for Jewish mystical experience. This quest for inner mystical experience intensified among Kabbalah researchers in the late twentieth century, foremost among whom was Moshe Idel. To summarize: developments in nineteenth-century philosophy, psychology, and sociology had profound implications for the Western conception of the human subject and, as result, prompted intense reflection among theologians on inner experience in religion.

The Difference between “Inner Religious Life” and the “Internalization of Religion” The search for religious subjectivity did not begin in the modern West. Evidence from the history of religions all over the world indicates that the distinction between outer and inner religious life and interiorization processes already existed in various religions during the first millennium BCE (see below). The Indian ascetic saint Ramakrishna (1833–1886) said: “The true religious man is he who does not do anything wrong or act impiously, when he is alone, i.e. when there is none to look after and blame him.”21 Outer religious life is conducted in public. Consequently, the motives behind public religious actions might be completely external. The rabbis define 20 Sefer ha-Bahir is a short book regarded by Gershom Scholem and others to be the first Kabbalistic work, since, for the first time, it describes the divine attributes, the ten Sefirot, that it calls the Ten Sayings, with which the world was created. It is constructed from a collection of short dicta put in the mouths of various Tannaim and Amoraim. It was first known in its extant form in the late twelfth century in southern France. 21 F. Max Muller, Ramakrishna: His Life and Sayings (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1905), 123, saying 110.


such actions as performed “for other motives [shelo lishma].”22 The desire to impress, to curry favor, to avoid criticism and social censure, and the like, are inner motives for external behavior that loses its significance when the person is alone, away from society’s watchful eyes. Inner religious life can only be examined by looking at the religious conduct of a religious individual in solitude, when they are apart from their social environment. Ramakrishna analyzed the inner religious content of devotion [bakti] within his Hindu world. Evelyn Underhill identified inner religious life with the mystical aspects of religious experience, which she defined as the attempt by the soul to make contact with those eternal realities which are the subject matter of religion.23 Such a life, even in a social context, and especially in solitude, contains a broad range of sentiments and values, such as the devotion of which Ramakrishna spoke, the feelings of awe before God, love of God, fervor, a sense of thanksgiving, dependence, and the like. Some researchers who developed the concept of “inner religion” identified it with Kierkegaard’s religious existentialism, or with religious sentiments such as those described by James in The Varieties of Religious Experience. I will consider various theories of inner religion, but most importantly, this book will focus on practices that the religious individual perceives as means to stand before, or to make contact with, the divine. For example, prayer will be examined following Heiler, for whom it was the only direct expression of inner religious experiences such as awe, trust in God, submission, longing, and fervor, unlike those indirect expressions provided by other religious practices, including ceremonies, sacraments, or mortifications.24 Prayer in this book will be analyzed from an immanentist perspective, from the inner viewpoint of the worshiper, and not within the framework of religious traditions that regard prayer as a divine command, religious law, or a formal manner of addressing God (or gods). Seemingly, it could be argued that every religious system of beliefs and opinions is an integral part of the totality of inner religious life, since thoughts, like emotions, are part of the inner experience of the individual. However, adopting such a stance would harm our ability to distinguish between the inner and the outer components of religion. Our use of the 22 BT Sanhedrin 105b. 23 Evelyn Underhill, Concerning the Inner Life (Oxford: Oneworld, 1999), 28–34. 24 Friedrich Heiler, Prayer: A Study in the History and Psychology of Religion, trans. and ed. Samuel McComb (New York: Oxford University Press, 1958), XV.




term “inner religious life” refers to its overt and conscious psychological aspects. Accordingly, we should concentrate on thoughts directly pertaining to religious self-perception and on understanding the relationship between thought and reality. Integral to the current book are the religious ideas that focus on the life of the psyche and the existential conceptions at the basis of these ideas, as well as the religious theories of consciousness. Abstract or general thoughts on the world of the divine or nature that do not relate to the individual’s inner world or directly reflect it lie beyond the purview of the current study. This is also the reason why I do not include myth in the realm of inner religious life. In myths, more than in any other cultural products, psychological contents are externalized, projected onto historical figures and events that occurred or occur in nature, in the world, or on the divine plane.25 Generally speaking, a myth is not a conscious expression of the religious individual’s psychological life. When emotional aspects are included in the subject matter of a myth, they are channeled into a historical hero, and their significance for the religious individual remains hidden in a narrative formulated in objective language. Myth is a result of the objectivization of inner psychological contents by means of narrative formulation, while the object of this study is subjective life and conscious thought about it. Religious interpretation becomes a component of inner religious life as examined in this book only when we can directly expose the psychological data underlying the narrative expression by psychological analysis or other means. The internal psychological data of religion frequently attest to internalization in religious life. As I noted in my book Human Temple,26 in modern colloquial language this term usually means “turning stimuli and external motives into an integral part of a person’s self-consciousness and personality,”27 in the accepted psychological and sociological sense: for example, internalizing the figure of a parent or revered person with whom a certain 25 See Ron Margolin, “The Various Faces of the Jewish Myth: From the Bible to Its Conceptual Interiorization in Hasidism” [Heb], Te‘uda 26 (2014): 137–219; Hans Jonas, Philosophical Essays: From Ancient Creed to Technological Man (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1974), 291–92. 26 See Ron Margolin, Human Temple: Religious Interiorization and the Structuring of Inner Life in Early Hasidism [Heb] (Jerusalem: Magnes, 2005), 58–59. 27 See Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Ninth Edition (Springfield: MerriamWebster, 1991), 632, and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition (Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 1999), 611, s.v. “internalize.”


individual identifies. Sociologists speak of the child’s internalization of the social world as part of socialization, and the same process occurs whenever an adult is integrated within a new social context or group.28 In this book I will speak of interiorization (or inwardness) as the process of change that occurs within a given religious culture, when the center of attention is shifted from the “objective world” of nature or myth to the “subjective world” of the individual’s psyche. Ultimately, this movement can result in spiritualization and a negation of external reality.29 Interiorization processes exist in many religions and in diverse contexts, but the changed focus from events in the outer world to inner psychological meaning is common to them all. The term “interiorization” presumes a transition from outer to inner perception, but the assumed existence of a developmental transition does not necessarily mean the prevalence of inner perception. Often, both perceptions continue to coexist. For example, Yochanan Muffs, a scholar of biblical and rabbinic literature, saw the history of the Israelite moral sensibility concerning reward and punishment as clear evidence of religious interiorization with an inherent tension between outer and inner perceptions: In the first stage sin has an objective quality. It is like a physical ailment, like a cancer that can only be cured by fire or the scalpel. In this stage, repentance, good deeds, and even the merit of a father do not work. The sin inexorably brings about a punishment, which must be borne. There is no way to cancel this punishment or delay it. 28 See Peter L. Berger, Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1963), 121, where he observed: “Only an understanding of internalization makes sense of the incredible fact that most external controls work most of the time for most of the people in society. Society not only controls our movements, but shapes our identity, our thought and our emotions. The structures of society become the structures of our own consciousness.” See also his full discussion in the chapter “Sociological Perspective—Society in Man,” 93–121. 29 “Interiorize”: “to make a part of one’s own inner being or mental structure” (MerriamWebster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Ninth Edition, 631). I am aware that not all the scholars currently occupied with the question of interiorization draw a distinction between the three terms “internalization,” “interiorization,” and “inwardness.” Charles Taylor, who was especially attentive to the role of interiorization in the fashioning of modern man’s ego, did not distinguish between them; see Taylor, Sources of the Self, 120. Halbertal and Margalit used the term “internalization” for Maimonides’s distinction in Guide of the Perplexed 1:50 between what a person says and what is “imagined in the mind”; see Moshe Halbertal and Avishai Margalit, Idolatry, trans. Naomi Goldblum (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), 273 n. 1.




In the third stage, the sin has a subjective nature. It is like a mental disease whose cure is achieved by the repentance of the sinner. Repentance is an inner, psychic process, a type of psychiatric therapy. A clear description of this process is found in Isa. 6:10, if we convert Isaiah’s negative formulation into a positive one: “And if he sees with his eyes and hears with his ears, his heart will understand, and as a result he will repent and thus cure himself.” It seems that if His sinner/patient takes the first step in the process of repentance, the Lord in His infinite mercy gives the penitent the strength to complete the process of repentance and to stabilize himself in his newlyfound self. “Repent, O backsliding children, I will cure your backsliding” (Jer. 3:22) or “And you shall take to heart all that has happened to you, as a result of which you will repent to the Lord . . . who will then return your exile . . . then the Lord will circumcise your heart and the heart of your children to permanently love the Lord.” (Deut. 30:1–6) The second stage of this development reflects the tension between stages one and three. The attribute of strict justice makes its demands, and the attribute of mercy makes its demands. Justice says, “There is an objective obligation here—punishment must be exacted.” Mercy says, “The sinner has repented, forgive him.” The resolution of this paradox is the following: The sinner himself is not punished. The exacting of the punishment is delayed, and it is exacted from his children, in most cases up to the fourth generation. See, for example, the story of Ahab’s repentance [I Kings 21:27–29].30

Muffs identifies three stages in the Biblical conception of reward and punishment. The third stage, that of repentance, is evidently characterized by religious interiorization. The outer objective perception of sin as an act that offends God and requires external punishment is replaced by the understanding of sin as psychological harm that the individual causes to himself. Accordingly, this damage is to be corrected by an inner psychic rectification, by changing the behavior of the sinner himself. The interiorization reflected in the biblical idea of repentance is conditional upon an inner change: “and you return to the Lord your God, and you and your children heed His command with all your heart and soul, just as I enjoin upon you this day” (Deut. 30:2). And yet, it does not necessarily entail the negation of the outer religious life. Indeed, the repentant are assured of returning to God: “then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and 30 Yochanan Muffs, Love & Joy: Law, Language and Religion in Ancient Israel (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1992), 17–18.


take you back in love. He will bring you together again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you” (Deut. 30:3). Muffs’s depiction of biblical repentance as religious interiorization is fundamentally a process of the mind. Other types of religious interiorization are inspired by other aspects of religious life. For example, some interiorizations develop the ritual sphere and discover the intent behind the ritual act, while others, known as mystical experiences, emerge in the experiential realm.31 Each of these types will be examined separately below. Just as a distinction is to be drawn between inner religious life and religious interiorization, so too we should not confuse these notions with extroverted or introverted mysticism. These two kinds of mysticism do not originate in the study of religion. Rather, they appear in James’s theories and Jung’s work on the psychology of the unconscious.32 James describes two types of thinkers, with their differing personalities as the root of their philosophical disagreements. The first type is inclined to more refined thought, and prefers rationalism, optimism, and idealism. This thinker also supports religiosity. The second type prefers coarser thinking and empirical thought, leaning towards materialism, pessimism, and the absence of religiosity.33 Jung used this distinction to explore the disagreement between Freud and Adler regarding the central motivating factor of human behavior: Eros, or the urge to rule, which he made the basis for his theory of psychological types. According to Jung, introverted people are more hesitant, reflective, restrained, and defensive; while extroverts act first and think about their actions later, they are more popular and trusting of the others, and are more open and willing to act. However, each type also contains the traits of the other to some degree. William Stace adopted James’s and Jung’s typologies, and separated mysticism into the categories of “extroverted” and “introverted.” He stated that these distinct mysticisms were created by men and women of different psychological qualities.34 But this is not the place for 31 I based this on Berger’s definition of mysticism: “If mysticism is defined in the broad way suggested before—that is, as a religious quest turned inward, seeking the divine within the interiority of human consciousness. . . .” (Peter L. Berger, The Heretical Imperative: Contemporary Possibilities of Religious Affirmation [Garden City: Anchor, 1979], 171). 32 Carl G. Jung, On the Psychology of the Unconscious, trans. R. F. C. Hull (New York: Pantheon, 1953), 40–63. 33 William James, Pragmatism, and Four Essays from the Meaning of Truth (New Delhi: Eurasia, 1975), 9–26, and esp. 12–13. 34 W. T. Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy (London: Macmillan, 1961), 62–122.




a lengthy discussion of Stace’s work.35 Suffice it to say that Stace uses the terms “extroverted” and “introverted” irrespective of the processes of externalization and interiorization. I maintain that the testimonies of so-called extroverted mystics could also originate in inner religious life, provided that they are not formulated in the external language of knowledge and myth.36

The Difference between the Psychologization and Phenomenology of Inner Religious Life By its very nature, the study of inner religious life concentrates on psychological life that finds expression in religious texts and mores. From the middle of the nineteenth century onwards, this focus on religious immanentism raised fundamental questions about the psychological underpinnings of religion. This discussion led many scholars to identify religion with psychological mechanisms, and, consequently, religion was perceived merely as an expression of human desires. In turn, this understanding led to the conclusion that religion is only a creation of the human psyche and satisfies its desires by means of illusory beliefs. Ludwig Feuerbach wrote in The Essence of Christianity (1841) that man attributes to God an essential part of his own subjectivity which he denies as belonging to himself. His assertion that man projects his subjective reality onto religious belief influenced psychological and anthropological conceptions of religion in the second half of the nineteenth century. Feuerbach maintained that by projecting parts of the human psyche onto the divine, that is, onto objective reality, man turns himself into the object of imagery that he projected from within himself. In effect, Feuerbach proposes that man can free himself of his subjectivity through religious belief. Man can 35 Stace saw the difference between introversion and extroversion as the basis for Rudolf Otto’s distinction between introspective mysticism and that of the unifying vision (Otto, Mysticism East and West, trans. Bertha L. Bracey and Richenda C. Payne [New York: Macmillan, 1932], 38–69). What Stace writes about the connection between the two does not necessarily reflect Otto’s main conception, but rather Stace’s pronounced desire to demonstrate the universality of mysticism. Stace’s book indicates his belief that the two types of mysticism of knowledge, which is of special interest to Otto, share traits that originate in a universal nucleus (Stace, Mysticism, 62). Stace’s emphases might have distorted and blurred Otto’s particular stance, since the latter was more attentive to the differences between the various types of mysticism, with a special focus on the uniqueness of mystical intuition, on which the mysticism of knowledge is based. 36 See the extensive discussion below, chapter three, 238–239.


objectivize traits and qualities that are present deep in his own self and identify them with the divine.37 Feuerbach’s religious philosophy was often understood, primarily by Karl Marx, as total atheism, necessitating the complete negation of religion.38 However, in contrast to Marx, Protestant theologians and modern religious thinkers, especially toward the end of the nineteenth century, also found this philosophy to be of great interest. Following Feuerbach, they understood religious belief as a mirror showing man his depths without claiming that their origins are inner only. This understanding required a positive attitude toward religion, which gave a hope of religious renewal. A highly atheistic atmosphere, justified by Feuerbach’s teachings, prevailed in the psychoanalytical circle that formed around Sigmund Freud at the beginning of the twentieth century. The analyses of religious texts conducted by this circle, first among them Freud’s Totem and Taboo, were characterized by a psychologizing approach that intentionally reduced the importance of religion. Religion was explained as a psychological and social mechanism meant to overcome the instincts at the basis of human conduct.39 Since biblical anthropomorphism was regarded as a projection of the human onto the divine, the commentaries by Freud and his followers on biblical and other religious texts, as well as anthropological findings such as those attesting to totemic cultures, became a means of confirming psychoanalytical theory itself. The most striking departure from Freud within psychoanalytical circles was led by C. G. Jung. As mentioned above, Jung disagreed with Freud’s understanding of religion. In practice, he arguably leaned toward understanding Feuerbach as supporting a reevaluation of religion. Although Jung himself was indifferent to the theological meanings of 37 Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, trans. George Eliot (New York: Harper & Row, 1957), 27–32. 38 Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach und der Ausgang der Klassischen deutschen Philosophie . . . Mit Anhang Karl Marx über Feuerbach von Jahre 1845 (Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy . . . With Notes on Feuerbach by Karl Marx 1845) (Berlin: Verlag von J. H. W. Dietz, 1888). 69–72. 39 Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, in Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, 24 vols., ed. James Strachey (London: Hogarth, 1955), 13:32–55. For an example of a research typical of this school, that was written by one of Freud’s close disciples, see Theodore Reik, Ritual: Four Psychoanalytic Studies, trans. Douglas Bryan (New York: Grove, 1962).




the religious materials that he examined,40 the disparity between his and Freud’s interpretations of the meaning of inner religious life proves that the reductionist stance of the founder of psychoanalysis was not simply the product of Feuerbach’s ideas. Rather, Freud was in line with the negative philosophical comprehensive worldview and fundamental attitude to religion of his time. The subjectivization of religious content on which the psychoanalytic interpretation is founded tends to reduce the divine to the human in religious texts. The emphasis on conscious and, even more so, unconscious psychological motives for religion and religious experiences presupposes that religion is nothing more than one of many possible forms of expression for human subjectivity. When all is said and done, psychoanalytic approaches assume that the existence of the divine beyond man, on which religion is based, is a fiction, even if a necessary one. The deep-seated aversion to psychological discussion of religion, for fear of negating the idea of God itself, is no less problematic than apprehensions regarding subjectivization in psychological interpretation. Denying the psychological nature of important components of religious life can hinder the comprehension of religious phenomenon as such. For example, a discussion of Bible-based monotheistic religions cannot ignore the family model on which they are founded, even out of fear of a Freudian reduction to the all-encompassing Oedipal theory. The paternal figure of the biblical God, anchored in many texts, is not Freud’s invention. If commentators disregard the male longing for the female at the basis of the desire for mystical union or absorption, and the male anxiety that underpins separation from the commanding characteristics of God, they discard a useful tool for examining the nature of the relationship between man and God. While Freud exposed the religious dimension of the great father figure, Jung focused on the great mother figure. Psychoanalytical research demonstrates that the human psyche is marked by a profound longing for father or mother figures greater than an individual’s parents. For psychoanalysis, free from the religious prejudices of the late nineteenth century, God is seen as the great father or mother figure that is the driving force a subject’s life. This force was, of course, felt directly by many religious people even before 40 See above, n. 14, on the bitter dispute between Jung and Buber on this issue.


the Enlightenment. Philosophical or theological discussion must acknowledge this. I shall further explore very briefly the importance of psychology for the subject of this book, and in the final chapter I will draw some conclusions on the matter. Regardless of the answers offered, I firmly believe that the psychological thought of the twentieth century provides scholars of religion with invaluable instruments—in addition to those drawn from literary criticism, historical research, and anthropology—with which to explore the complexity of inner religious life as reflected in religious texts and from observations of practices and experiences. The Phenomenological method can help to resolve any problematic preconceptions regarding the religious content underlying psychological approaches. For Edmund Husserl, the founder of the phenomenological method in philosophy, like Descartes, everything except the reality of the self was parenthetical. Husserl explains: It is of the essence of the physical world that no perception, however perfect, presents anything absolute in that realm; and essentially connected with this is the fact that any experience, however extensive, leaves open the possibility that what is given does not exist in spite of the continual consciousness of its own presence “in person.” According to eidetic law it is the case that physical existence is never required as necessary by the givenness of something physical, but is always in a certain manner contingent. This means: It can always be that the further course of experience necessitates giving up what has already been posited with a legitimacy derived from experience. Afterwards one says it was a mere illusion, a hallucination, merely a coherent dream, or the like. Furthermore, as a continuously open possibility in this sphere of givenness, there exists such a thing as alteration of construing, a sudden changing of one appearance into another which cannot be united harmoniously with it and thus an influx of the latter upon the earlier experiential positings owing to which the intentional object of these earlier positings suffer afterwards, so to speak, a transformation—occurrences all of which are essentially excluded from the sphere of mental processes. In this absolute sphere there is no room for conflict, illusion, or being otherwise. It is a sphere of absolute positing. Thus in every manner it is clear that whatever is there for me in the world of physical things is necessarily only a presumptive actuality and, on the other hand, that I myself, for whom it is there (I, when the “part of me” belonging to the world of physical things is excluded), am absolute actuality




or that the present phase of my mental processes is an absolute actuality, given by an unconditional, absolutely indefeasible positing.41

Husserl received from his teacher Franz Brentano the concept of intentionality, that he developed from within scholastic thought:42 Looking at the world phenomenologically means looking at the world from within the inwardness of the consciousness, of the intention. . . . Phenomenology gives the reality of the consciousness precedence over the reality of the world, and seeks to explain the belief in the world. It does not, however, deny the tangible reality of the world. For it, the world is not imaginary. But at any rate, our belief in the world must be explained. Phenomenology’s task is to clarify the meaning of the reality of the world. That is, the meaning of our belief in its reality. The nonreality of the world is impossible. Its reality is absolute. The reality of the world is relative, it always relates to the consciousness that bears it, for its reality is only reality in intentionality, the object to which the consciousness intends and in which it believes. The world is only “intentionales Sinngebilde der tranzendentalen Subiektivität.” The subjectivity of the self is directed to it and bears it.43

Husserl sought to constitute his philosophy on Descartes in a new manner, that is, to establish scientific objectivity from within subjectivity. The concluding paragraphs of his book Cartesian Meditations attests to the interiorizing nature of his philosophy: The path leading to a knowledge absolutely grounded in the highest sense, or (this being the same thing) a philosophical knowledge, is necessarily the path of universal self-knowledge—first of all monadic, and then intermonadic. We can say also that a radical and universal continuation of Cartesian meditations, or (equivalently) a universal self-cognition, is philosophy itself and encompasses all self-accountable science. The Delphic motto, “Know thyself!” has gained a new signification. Positive science is a science lost in the world. I must lose the world by epoche, in order to regain it by a universal self-examination. “Noli foras ire,” 41 Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, book 1: General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology, trans. F. Kersten (Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1982), 102. 42 Franz Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Viewpoint, trans. Antos C. Rancurello, D. B. Terell, and Linda L. McAlister (London: Routledge, 1995). 43 Samuel Hugo Bergmann, Contemporary Thinkers [Heb] (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1984), 112–13.


says Augustine, “in te redi, in interiore homine habitat veritas” [“Do not go outward; return within yourself. In the inward man dwells truth”].44

The phenomenology of religion, as formulated by van der Leeuw requires that the data be separated from their meaning, and postpones clarification of said data’s theological and philosophical significance to a later phase, based on a broad deployment of all available information.45 Such careful analysis is usually missing in psychoanalytic readings of religious texts—readings that function simply to confirm psychoanalytic theory itself. I will therefore devote the closing pages of the book to a substantive review of immanent data, as opposed to making the kinds of metaphysical claims that emerge mainly from the writings of the major monotheistic religions. I will reserve for that closing section my discussion of the wide gap between those who argue that inner religious life attests to the subjective psychological character of religion and those who maintain the existence of tangible and external interaction between man and the divine world beyond. Martin Buber’s work demonstrates that inner religious life does not require the adoption of an atheistic subjective position. Buber, who published in Germany in the early twentieth century popular books about religious experience, including a collection of ecstatic confessions and Hasidic tales, was perceived by many young people in the early 1920s as encouraging and fostering interest in subjective religious experience from a patently secular stance. In the introduction to his book Reden über das Judentum [Speeches on Judaism], which was published in 1923, following the publication of I and Thou, Buber described how he had changed since he had delivered those speeches before the First World War: The psychologizing of God and the psychic effusiveness of the ego who has cut himself off from the totality of the actual world I find noteworthy only as spectacles, as a dance on a tightrope between two cliffs. What happens at the periphery, in the realm whose attraction and lure consist in assuming control over the giddy nothingness, is always noteworthy but never important. And lastly, I sense in this peculiar, eventless, experiencing a perversion that is more than a psychic one; it is a cosmic perversion. Intrinsically, what really 44 Edmund Husserl, Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology, trans. Dorion Cairns (Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1960), 156–57. The translation of the citation from Augustine is taken from Taylor, Sources of the Self, 129. 45 See van der Leeuw, Religion in Essence, 671–78.




matters is not the “experiencing” of life (Erleben)—the attached subjectivity— but life itself; not the religious experience, which is part of the psychic realm, but religious life itself, that is, the total life of an individual or of a people in their actual relationship to God and the world. To make the human element absolute means to tear it out of life’s totality, out of reality; and if I have at any time contributed to this “absolutizing”—so far as I know, unintentionally—I now feel duty-bound to point out all the more emphatically the dimensions of reality.46

This forthright objection to the preoccupation with religious experience and religious subjectivity could serve as a warning against a crucial misunderstanding liable to arise from a reading of the current book. A phenomenological discussion of the inner, psychological life of religion in general, and especially of Judaism, could be perceived as supporting the claim that religious reality is merely a structure built upon the subjectivity on which religious life is founded. A full description of the inner realm of religious life is only possible if we are aware of the disparity and nonidentity between outer and inner religious life. But we cannot argue that subjective religious life is detached from life in general, endorse subjective positions, or favor outer religious conceptions that aim to reduce or negate the existence of inner religion.

Judaism and Inwardness At the center of the Judaism fashioned by the rabbis in their interpretation of the Bible is the community committed to Jewish law. This orientation is evident in the principles of outer conduct that the Oral Law imposes on the Jewish people. It also raises questions regarding the place and importance of inner life in Judaism. The rabbis attach great importance to religious commandments, and their dicta such as “R. Hanina said, Greater is [the reward of] one who is commanded and performs than [that of] the one who is not commanded and performs”47 exalt the individual who acts in accordance with an outer command. This reinforces the general impression that in Judaism as formulated by the rabbis, inner, volitional life exists, at best, on the fringes of the mandated religious life. In other words, the heart of rabbinic Judaism is in the observance of the commands given by 46 Buber, On Judaism, ed. Nahum N. Glatzer (New York: Schocken, 1967), 8. 47 BT Bava Kamma 38a; 87a; Avodah Zarah 3a.


God, who is beyond man, within the Jewish social context fashioned by the halakhah [Jewish law]. From this perspective, Judaism is an external, legal, ritual system, which is recognized by way of the halakhic lifestyle common to its members. In the modern period, the Torah was often identified with laws and commandments external to man, and the inner psychological dimensions of religious life—especially the volitional ones—were brushed to the fringes of Judaism. Baruch Spinoza, in his Political-Theological Treatise, was the first to define Judaism as a state constitution.48 This definition doubly limits Judaism: first, to a system of laws, and second, to a system of laws conditional upon the Jewish people dwelling in its own state. It was meant to give the Jews an opportunity to renounce Judaism when they were invited to become fully integrated into the life of the countries where they lived. It could be argued, paradoxically, that Spinoza’s first limitation of defining Judaism solely as a system of laws, was adopted after the emancipation even by those who continued to observe the commandments of Judaism. Emancipation and the equal rights enjoyed by Jews, first in western Europe and the United States, and then gradually throughout the world, enabled those who desired to cast off all commitment to the mandates of the Jewish religion, to commit to the laws of the state in which they lived. Others, either consciously or unconsciously, adopted the statement that Moses Mendelssohn made in Jerusalem: that Judaism is a revealed religion of laws and commandments, and not one of beliefs and dogmas. For them, the commandments were an additional system that did not contradict their commitment to the state.49 Mendelssohn himself took pains to argue that the laws of Judaism are not arbitrary, but practical commandments that help realize rational moral values consistent with the aims of the modern state.50 However, many Jews, observant and nonobservant, still viewed Judaism as a religion of internal social laws. This definition enabled Jews to maintain their separate existence by the outer observance of the 48 Baruch Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, trans. Samuel Shirley (Leiden: Brill, 1991), 88–94. 49 Moses Mendelssohn, Jerusalem: Or on Religious Power and Judaism, trans. Allan Arkush, introduction and commentary by Alexander Altmann (Hanover: Brandeis University Press, 1983), 97–98. 50 Ibid., 100–101, 102–103. Unlike Spinoza, and in contrast with the claim by several Mendelssohn scholars, Mendelssohn maintained that the singular purpose of religious societies is to arouse and elevate the soul in communal life, a goal that the state cannot impart to people (Mendelssohn, Jerusalem, 74).




Torah’s commandments and, at the same time, to enter the general society which opened its gates to them. Emancipation and equal rights for Jews contributed significantly to intensifying the outer aspect of Jewish life, that is, the perception of Jewish life as simply the outer observance of the halakhah, albeit in different degrees of strictness. In the twentieth century, many Jews saw no reason to maintain a separate way of life and preferred maximal integration into their surroundings. Others chose independent existence not as a community supported by religious commandments, but as a nation. After most Bundists were killed in the Holocaust, the Zionist movement attracted all Jews who wanted to live as part of a Jewish nation. The Zionist’s activity resulted in the establishment of the State of Israel.51 Nevertheless, even in the new state, many people who remained loyal to the observance of the Torah were inclined to regard the outer observance of the requirements of the halakhah as the main expression of their Jewish religiosity. The claim that Judaism has an outward orientation is supported by the separatist nature of many of its commandments. Following Maimonides’s historical explanations of the biblical laws concerning sacrifices,52 John Spenser, for example, argued that the ritual laws of the Mosaic code are the normative opposite of Egyptian laws.53 Spinoza maintained in the PoliticalTheological Treatise that the commandments insulating Jews from nonJews are the secret of the continued existence of the Jewish people in the abnormal conditions of dispersion.54 These arguments were of considerable significance in defining Judaism as an outer religion that emphasizes the communal or social. This emphasis was underscored by the creation of the restrictive measures [sayagim, literally, “fences”] that the rabbis developed to safeguard the observance of the commandments, such as the laws separating milk and meat or the prohibition against drinking the wine of the 51 The Jewish Workers’ Party of Russia, Poland, and Lithuania, known in short as the Bund, was founded in Vilna in 1897. After the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, it existed as an independent party in Poland and Lithuania until the 1930s. The Bund was both a labor union and a major secular Jewish party that opposed Zionism territorial demands by the Jewish people. It promulgated Yiddish as the Jewish national language and built a Yiddish cultural system for the realization of cultural autonomy for the party’s members. 52 Maimonides, Guide 3:32 (for English translation, see The Guide of the Perplexed, trans. Shlomo Pines [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963], 525–31). 53 See Jan Assman, Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 57–69. 54 Spinoza, Tractatus, 62–65.


Gentiles. In light of these facts, the study of the inner life in Judaism will reveal the data in Jewish sources that cannot be fully explained by sociological categories without the trivialization of their main contents. Many researchers into Jewish mysticism are indebted to Gershom Scholem’s fundamental and thorough studies of Kabbalah and early Jewish mysticism. To a large degree, Scholem’s work was based on his desire to uncover the experiential inner dimensions of the Jewish religion. In the beginning of my book Human Temple I observed that Scholem’s undertaking was influenced by the young Buber’s perception of Jewish mysticism, to which the latter had been exposed already in his youth in Germany.55 As mentioned above, Buber was interested in subjective religious experience and looked for it in Jewish sources. His study of Hasidism resulted from his understanding that the subjective elements of Judaism were amplified in the Hasidism of the Baal Shem Tov in Eastern Europe. Buber assumed that Hasidic religiosity was fed by the esoteric elements of Jewish religiosity (mystic trends, as he termed them), dating from the time of the Heikhalot literature and Sefer Yetzirah to the Zohar and Lurianic Kabbalah, rather than by other Jewish corpora, in particular the halakhic corpus, which supports institutionalized religion.56 In Human Temple, I agreed that the interiorizing trends of Jewish religious life reached their peak in Hasidism, as evidenced in Hasidic writings. However, the roots of the Hasidic orientation towards inner religious life are scattered throughout all sources of Judaism. I thereby laid the groundwork for my extensive questioning, in the current book, of Buber’s position in the first two decades of his literary activity and of Scholem’s stance throughout his career. Both assumed that the sources of inner religious life in Judaism were found primarily in what they called “the texts of Jewish mysticism.” Even if some components of these texts contributed to enriching the inner religious life of the Jewish people in the Middle Ages, we should not underestimate the 55 Margolin, Human Temple, 7–8; Boaz Huss, “Martin Buber’s introduction to the Stories of Rabbi Nachman and the Genealogy of Jewish Mysticism” [Heb], in By the Well: Studies in Jewish Philosophy and Halakhic Thought Presented to Gerald J. Blidstein, ed. Uri Ehrlich, Howard Kreisel, and Daniel J. Lasker (Beersheva: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press, 2008), 97–121. 56 See Buber’s introduction to his collection of the tales of R. Nahman: Martin Buber, “Jewish Mysticism,” in Buber, The Tales of Rabbi Nachman, trans. Maurice Friedman (New York: Avon, 1970), 3–17.; and idem, “Jewish Religiosity,” in Buber, On Judaism, ed. Nahum N. Glatzer (New York: Schocken, 1967), 79–94, an article based on his famous lecture to Jewish students in Prague in 1914.




major importance of many other texts from the Bible, rabbinic thought, and medieval Jewish philosophy in this process. The choice of the term “mysticism” to describe the orientation of the medieval Jews known as “Kabbalists” is problematic for a number of reasons. Although Scholem identified the Kabbalah with mysticism, he also shared the conviction of late nineteenth-century researchers into mysticism that the object of their work was a concept with many meanings, shem meshutaf [“homonym”] in the language of medieval philosophers.57 McGinn’s comprehensive survey of modern scholarship on mysticism in the appendix to The Foundations of Mysticism shows that this situation has not noticeably improved since the middle of the twentieth century.58 What seemed to be accepted by many at the beginning of the century became the basis for stormy debates later on. The perception of mysticism as a universal religious phenomenon founded on the exceptional experience of contact, or even union, with the divine or the transcendent, which assumed particular expression in various cultures, is only one of the accepted scholarly conceptions today. Even if we do not agree with extreme contemporary critics who question the existence of such an experience and regard it as an essentialist conception,59 it is clear that the accepted use of the term “mysticism” in Jewish studies is extremely problematic. Questions about Scholem’s assertion that Kabbalah is the heart of Jewish mysticism were posed in his lifetime. Werblowsky, for instance, maintained that large parts of Kabbalistic literature are of a speculative,

57 “No word in our language—not even ‘Socialism’—has been employed more loosely than ‘mysticism’” (William Ralph Inge, Christian Mysticism: Delivered in Eight Lectures before the University of Oxford [London: Methuen, 1899], 3). In his Appendix A, Inge lists twenty-six different definitions for mysticism; see Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York: Schocken, 1961), 4. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Evelyn Underhill argued that the term “mysticism” has many contradictory meanings, and stated that, her own meaning was the science of the unification with the absolute, which is not concerned with knowledge about this unification, but only with experience of it (Underhill, Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness [New York: Dutton, 1911], 72). On shem meshutaf, see Israel Efros, Philosophical Terms in the Moreh Nebukim (Philadelphia: Columbia University Press, 1924), 80–81. 58 Bernard McGinn, The Foundations of Mysticism, part 1: The Historical Roots of Western Mysticism (New York: Crossroad, 1995), 265–343. 59 Boaz Huss, “The Theologies of Kabbalah Research,” Modern Judaism 34, no. 1 (2014): 3–26.


theosophic nature, with no experiential dimension.60 Further, Moshe Idel’s work on the Abulafian prophetic ecstatic Kabbalah indicates the existence of disagreements within the Kabbalistic world about theosophic speculation: one group focuses on theosophy, while another opposes it and concentrates on attaining ecstatic experiences that originate in interpretations of the Maimonidean epistemology.61 In contrast with Werblowsky’s later position that the division between theosophy and theurgy, on the one hand, and ecstasy, on the other, should not be overemphasized,62 Erich Neumann argues—in my opinion, under the influence of Buber and, in some degree, Scholem—that true, fundamental mystical experience is, in fact, experience of the numinous and “cannot be other than anticonventional, anticollective, and antidogmatic, for the experience of the numinous is always new.”63 Consequently, writings that emerge from a tradition—Kabbalistic texts, for example—cannot reflect experiences of this sort. Yehuda Liebes recently argued, in response to my asserting the existence of interiorization lines in the Heikhalot literature, that this corpus, like most Kabbalistic literature, especially in recent generations, is characterized by the systematization and formalization of spiritual intuitions present in Talmudic literature. Liebes argues that these corpora are to be viewed as an expression of externalization tendencies.64 This corresponds with what I maintain concerning considerable portions of Kabbalistic literature: when speaking of inwardness, I referred to transferring the center of interest to inner experiences or to psychological contents, while theosophic Kabbalistic literature engages in systematic mythicizing, as it projects psychological contents onto the divine world beyond man. Expressions of religious interiorization and 60 R. J. Zwi Werblowsky, “On the Mystical Rejection of Mystical Illuminations: A Note on St. John of the Cross,” Religious Studies 1 (1966): 179; idem, Joseph Karo: Lawyer and Mystic (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1977), 39–40. 61 Moshe Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 59–70, 112–22, 136–55. 62 Werblowsky, Joseph Karo, 291. 63 Erich Neumann, ““Mystical Man,” in The Mystic Vision: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, ed. Joseph Campbell and trans. Ralph Manheim (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), 386. 64 See Yehuda Liebes, “De Natura Dei: On the Jewish Myth and Its Development” [Heb], in Massu’ot: Studies in Kabbalistic Literature and Jewish Philosophy in Memory of Prof. Ephraim Gottlieb, ed. Michal Oron and Amos Goldreich (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1994), 251–66; idem, “The Externalization of the Esoteric: From the Talmud to the Heikhalot Literature” [Heb], in Liebes, God’s Story: Collected Essays on the Jewish Myth (Jerusalem: Carmel, 2009), 163–75.




psychological religious life appear in Kabbalistic literature alongside other considerably weighty elements characterized by schematization and externalization, just as in other types of Jewish sources such as midrash and even halakhah. Consequently, the corpus of Kabbalistic writings should not be identified with religious interiorization in general, and especially not with mystical experiences, even though the Kabbalah significantly contributed to the fashioning of inner religious life and the development of interiorization in Judaism. Since, as I argue, mythicization is a product of externalization, Scholem’s comments on the mythical nature of much Kabbalistic literature, especially the Zohar, strengthen this argument. Externalization as the opposite of interiorization is linked to the mythical nature of Kabbalistic writings more than to the systematization of Kabbalistic teachings.65 Scholars after Scholem perceived Kabbalah as the central stream of Jewish mysticism. It was commonly thought that all mysticism should be fundamentally separated from other Jewish literary genres, such as medieval philosophical literature and midrashic literature. This conception was also based on the Kabbalists’ perception of themselves as possessing a unique esoteric learning. This approach was adopted by modern commentators following the notion held by the anti-Kabbalists who saw Kabbalah as a foreign body within official Judaism, as well as the view of Kabbalah researchers who thought of it as a subversive and alternative element in medieval Judaism, even though most Kabbalists were patently halakhists, and only a few individuals, such as Sabbatai Tzevi, were inspired by Kabbalistic notions to exceed the bounds of halakha. In contrast, new research, such as Adam Afterman’s works on the concept of devekut in nascent Kabbalah, shows that the early Kabbalah was influenced by Platonic thought, along with Jewish medieval philosophy.66 The various justifications for cordoning off Kabbalah as an almost totally distinct field of Jewish studies do not compensate for the damage which this act has done. The identification of Kabbalah as the most fertile ground for religious and mystical experiences both intentionally and, for the most part, unwittingly limited the exploration of Jewish inner life expressed in other corpora. Furthermore, central areas in the world of the Kabbalists that were based on medieval science were hardly examined, or were removed from the general context in which they developed. 65 On myths as externalization of psychological contents, see above, 14, n. 25. 66 Adam Afterman, Devequt: Mystical Intimacy in Medieval Jewish Thought [Heb] (Los Angeles: Cherub, 2011).


The artificial barrier erected between midrash and Kabbalah was partly removed by contemporary Kabbalah scholars, who demonstrated the close ties between midrashic and Kabbalistic literatures. Still, it seems that the ideas that led to the creation of this barrier were not dismantled. While midrashic ideas were recognized as the basis of many Kabbalistic concepts, its systemization and language, its scholarly tradition, and the distinct self-consciousness of the Kabbalists still reflect the separatist attitude of scholars—and Jewish culture as a whole—towards Kabbalah. Twentieth-century Kabbalah scholarship, which initially perceived it as an antiestablishment alternative and attempted to isolate Kabbalah from the other Jewish corpora, strengthened the modern widespread interest in Kabbalah but indirectly supported the lack of awareness of its midrashic and medieval context, and consquently the speculative nature of Kabbalistic theosophy. One of the goals of this book is to present an alternative to the descriptions given by Buber in his introduction to the tales of R. Nahman and by Scholem in Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, with their assumption of a continuous and separate Jewish tradition that they called “Jewish mysticism.”67 The phenomenology of inner religious life can be found in all the various corpora of the Jewish sources—in the Bible, rabbinic literature, medieval philosophical and Kabbalistic literatures, and pietistic and Hasidic literatures. Together, these sources offer another, and in my opinion less artificial, view of the relationship between inner and the outer life in Judaism. This perspective enables us to see the parallel existence of the two planes, the inner and the outer, throughout Jewish history, while indicating that the inner plane was reinforced by interiorization processes in specific periods and circles, such as, for example, the early pietists in Tannaitic literature or the followers of the Baal Shem Tov in the second half of the eighteenth century in Eastern Europe. In Human Temple, I examined the major arguments against the study of the interiorization and inner religious life in Judaism based on the dichotomy between external legalism and inner spirituality. Religious interiorization was appropriated by Christianity, which led Jewish and non-Jewish researchers to believe that the claim of inner life in Judaism was the result of Christian influence and a denial of Judaism’s practical and legalist central track. I countered these arguments with the observations 67 See Buber, “Jewish Mysticism”; and see above, n. 55.




made by Joshua Abelson, Solomon Schechter, Yitzhak Baer, Martin Buber, and David Flusser. Those opposed to the search for the meaning of the commandments [ta‘amei ha-mitzvot] and the defenders of the heteronomous nature of the halakhah frequently maintain that the preoccupation with inner life in Judaism serves antinomian propensities. This claim was refuted by historical reality: psychological elements in the world of the rabbis and the tremendous wealth of the medieval ta‘amei ha-mitzvot literature, whether philosophical or Kabbalistic, were almost invariably perceived as strengthening the halakhic way of life, not weakening it.68 I will raise an additional argument, formulated by Franz Rosenzweig in his article “Atheistic Theology.” He maintains, in essence, that Jewish philosophy and Kabbalah introduced an atheistic element into the heart of medieval Judaism. According to Rosenzweig, the interiorization of the conception of God under the influence of Neoplatonist ideas ran counter to the idea of prophetic revelation: But it is no coincidence that the famous key phrase of the master of the Kabbalah: “God speaks: if you do not bear witness to me, then I am not” is pronounced precisely as a Word of God and is projected into the written Word of God by means of an exegetical trick; God himself, not human presumption, makes Himself dependent upon the testimony of man; according to a profound parable, He “sells himself ” to man—yet He who could “sell” also has a claim to the purchase price. . . . That the light of God is the human soul and that only the rays of that light, which the soul needs for the illumination of its earthly ways, are visible—this fundamental idea of our philosophy—was and is just as susceptible as its mystical parallels to an atheistic stamp. . . . But the cleft, which is not to be filled in, between man as thought by both mysticism and rationalism, and man as he is receiver of revelation and, as such, an object of faith, this unfillable cleft, as it persists. . . .69

68 See Margolin, Human Temple, 118–22. 69 Franz Rosenzweig, “Atheistic Theology,” in Rosenzweig, Philosophical and Theological Writings, trans. and ed. Paul W. Franks and Michael L. Morgan (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2000), 23–24; this article was published only posthumously. In an unsent letter to Martin Buber, apparently from the end of August 1919 (Rosenzweig, Briefe, vol. 1 [Berlin: Schocken, 1935], 370), Rosenzweig explains that he wrote this “raw” article in 1914 after he had been requested to do so by Buber, who invited him to participate in the second annual Vom Judentum that Buber’s students in Prague were to publish. The article was returned by the editorial board of the Bar Kochba Association in Prague.


The importance of this passage for our discussion lies in its fundamental statement that ideas reflective of religious interiorization are atheistic, since, as Rosenzweig writes in the same essay, they “might attempt to cover the whole of the religious world with half of this pair of fundamental ideas. If this half, namely man, were in himself to be simple and without inner contradiction, then the thinker, as well as the man of action, could dispense with God.” This reading of the Bible is fundamentalist. It argues for the necessary distance between man and God and suggests that the Bible, and afterwards the rabbis, describe man’s inner world as opposed to God’s total transcendence. Rosenzweig himself softened the radical position expressed in this quotation under the influence of his sustained dialogue with Martin Buber during the course of their partnership in translating the Bible into German. Towards the end of his life, Rosenzweig took a different stance on the question of the biblical anthropomorphism, which he termed the Bible’s “psychological element.”70 Quite possibly, his new position should be considered as the beginning of the change that occurred in the understanding of this issue in the research of biblical and rabbinic literature. Philological studies in these fields conducted in recent decades reinforce our awareness of the dialogic aspect of the Bible, which assumes a shared foundation between man and God. Muffs concludes his discussion of the prayer of the prophets drawing from Rav’s teaching in BT Sanhedrin 38: Humanity created in the image of the divine personality does not reach its completion without the creative leap of loving communication. It is a great mystery that psychologists have not understood the importance the Bible has for them. In the image of the biblical God we have a definition of personality that is remarkably close to the modern definition. It is a little known secret that the modern Western definition of personality has its roots in the biblical revolution. The new idea in the Bible is not the idea of one God, but rather the revelation of a new concept of personality. The divine personality is, to a great degree, the mirror image of man’s understanding of himself. And if you should react in horror, and say, “You are promulgating heresy,” I can reformulate the problem slightly and say, “God is defined as personality, and humanity is created in God’s image.” Judaism conquered nature and put in

70 Franz Rosenzweig, “Mit einer Anmerkung über Anthropomorphismus,” in Rosenzweig, Kleinere Schriften (Berlin: Schocken, 1937), 525–33.




its place the personality that revealed itself in an act of love. Everything that formerly had a natural quality to it took on, in Judaism, a personalistic cast.71

Muffs sees God, the concept at the heart of the Bible and afterwards of the world of the rabbis, as a whole personality by which man was created. This concept also underlies the new understanding of the terms “image of God” and “Adam,” both of which are basic concepts in rabbinic and Kabbalistic literatures.72 If the commanding God is seen not as distant and transcendental, but as resembling a father, similar to Freud’s claim, then we should reinterpret the concept of “the Commander,” fundamental to Judaism, and reexamine its combination of immanence and transcendence. The rabbis fashioned Judaism as an essentially outer religion, reinforcing its heteronomous element,73 and disregarded the human image of the commanding God. In the structure where the manifold aspects of the divine personality can be emphasized or downplayed, the transcendental element rests on an immanent foundation, as in all the religions of antiquity. Accordingly, the commanding element is one of the inner psychological aspects by means of which God is manifested to and perceived by the biblical man, and especially by the Talmudic Jew. In order to examine the nature and place of Jewish inner religion in relation to the outer, I will present a broad range of aspects of inner religious life depicted in the Jewish sources. This presentation will facilitate a reconsideration of the centrality of inner mental elements and of the religious interiorization in Judaism throughout the ages, in contrast to the claims that underscore its outer components and its social or legalistic nature. Moreover, our exploration will be based on a phenomenological comparison with other religions. Comparative research provides universal criteria for examining the depth and meaning of the various aspects of inner religious life in a specific religion. Since comparative methodology has come under severe criticism in recent years, I will refer further in this introductory chapter to a number of problems raised by this critique. But this discussion will be preceded by an examination of terms for inwardness in the Jewish sources, since a Hebrew word directly corresponding 71 Muffs, Love & Joy, 45. 72 See Yair Lorberbaum, In God’s Image: Myth, Theology and Law in Classical Judaism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015). 73 See, for example, Ephraim Elimelech Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs, 2 vols., trans. Israel Abrahams (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1975), 1:315–42 (see footnote in 2:826–36).


to the term “inwardness,” penimiut, only signifies the life of the psyche in late Jewish sources. This examination will bring the meaning of our central term into sharp focus.

Terms for Inwardness in Jewish Sources The Bible uses various forms of the words penim or penimiut [literally, “inside, innerness”] to depict a location, usually in the Tabernacle or the Temple.74 In addition, the Bible uses the word lev [literally, “heart”] to indicate man’s inner world, with a range of emotions, sensations, and thoughts, all of which are different expressions of human mentality.75 At times, this inner world is expressly contrasted with external behavior: “Because that people has approached [Me] with its mouth and honored Me with its lips, but has kept its heart far from Me” (Isa. 29:13). On other occasions it emphasizes the force of divine knowledge, which is not limited to the outer world and all that happens in it, but is also cognizant of what occurs within the depths of man’s soul: “Examine me, O God, and know my mind; probe me and know my thoughts” (Ps. 139:23)76 or “O Lord of Hosts, O just Judge, who test the thoughts and the mind” (Jer. 11:20). Rabbinic literature continues using the word “heart” [lev] as a general metaphor for inwardness. The rabbis assume that the heart is the domicile of the inclinations (human passions and intentions), as evident from rabbinic exposition: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart . . .’ [Deut. 6:5], ‘with all your heart’—with both your inclinations, with the good inclination and with the evil inclination.”77 Additionally, rabbinic literature frequently uses lev to refer to knowledge and thought. The Amoraim (postmishnaic Talmudic sages), seeking to attribute anonymous 74 Lev. 10:18; I Kings 6:19, 21, 27; Ezek. 40:15, 19. 75 On the term lev in the Bible, see H. Wheeler Robinson, “Hebrew Psychology,” in The People and the Book, ed. A. S. Peake (Oxford: Clarendon, 1925), 362–64; Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, Complete Dictionary of Ancient and Modern Hebrew (Thesaurus Totius Hebraitatis et Veteris Recentioris) [Heb], vol. 5 (Tel Aviv: La’am, 1948), 2586–96, s.v. lev. 76 “A person senses that the place of his thoughts and emotions, his character traits, and the like, is within him, in a concealed place, while his actions and his words are done and heard outside; it is this inwardness of man that is called [in the Bible] lev . . . only this conception enables us to resolve the question of the word lev [referring] to inanimate objects, such as expressions: lev ha-shamayim [“the heart of heaven”] (Deut. 4:2) and lev ha-yam [“the heart of the sea”] (Exod. 15:8)” (Licht, “Lev, Levav [Heart]” [Heb], in Encyclopaedia Biblica, vol. 4 [Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1962], col. 414). 77 M Berakhot 9:5.




opinions to the holders of known views, ask: “Aliba de-man [(following) the heart of whom]?,” that is, “Whose opinion does this follow?”78 Enelow noted that the Talmudic term kavanah [usually rendered as “intent”] originated in Talmudic phrases that joined the root khaf-vav-nun with the word lev. See, for example, the verse “whose heart was inconsistent [lo hikhin libo]” (Ps. 78:8), and more.79 Discussions about the phrase kavanat ha-lev80 in the Babylonian Talmud show that its meaning lies in the realm of thought: it describes intellectual awareness of the observance of the commandment. Later, the word kavanah became a key term in the discussions of interiorization in Judaism, as Enelow argued.81 The word kavanah is a linguistic innovation of the Mishnah.82 According to Urbach, only the Amoraim make frequent use of this term as they discuss whether performance of the commandments requires intent. This term played an additional role in regard to transgressions.83 Beginning with the Mishnah, discussions of intent employ the terms maḥshavah [literally, “thought”],84 ratzon [“will”],85 and lishmah or she-lo lishmah [“for its own sake” and “not for its own sake”],86 along with kavanah. The Mishnah occasionally deals with questions of this sort by presenting a concrete instance without recourse to specific terms, when the case itself indicates

78 See below, chapter five, at the beginning of the discussion on the emphasis on inwardness as a guiding principle (before n. 163) and the study of Raba’s statement: “The Holy One, blessed be He, seeks the heart” (BT Sanhedrin 106b). See also chapter three, n. 80, for the discussion of the term avanta de-liba. 79 Heyman Gerson Enelow, “Kawwana: The Struggle for Inwardness in Judaism,” in Studies in Jewish Literature Issued in Honor of Professor Kaufmann Kohler, ed. D. Philipson, D. Neumark, and J. Morgenstern (Berlin: Reimer, 1913), 84–85. 80 See esp. BT Berakhot 13a; Rosh Hashanah 27b; and below, chapter one, for the discussion of intent in performance of the commandments. 81 “This struggle for inwardness in Judaism is reflected in the history of the doctrine of Kawwana. . . . It may mean intention, concentration, devotion; it may mean purpose and the right spirit; it may mean pondering, meditation, and mystery” (Enelow, “Kawwana,” 84). 82 M Eruvin 4:4; T Rosh Hashanah 3:7. 83 Ephraim Elimelech Urbach, The Halakhah: Its Sources and Development, trans. Raphael Posner (Jerusalem, Massada, 1986), 179. 84 M Bava Metzia 3:12; Makhshirin 6:1; T Menahot 5:5. 85 For example, M Makhshirin 1:1. 86 M Avot 2:12; Zevahim 1:1.


the degree of intent.87 Lorberbaum attempted to systematically analyze the different meanings of kavanah in the world of the rabbis.88 The word panim is used by the rabbis, as in the Bible, to denote location; for example, lifnei u-lifnim for the Holy of Holies. R. Nathan of Rome maintained that this is a metaphorical use derived from the word referring to the external facial area.89 Following this explanation, he connects the expression lifnim mi-shurat ha-din [“going beyond the demands of strict law”] with the question mipnei mah [“why”]. These figurative usages refer to inner, but not necessarily psychological, content.90 Mipnei mah is a question about the cause; lifnim mi-shurat ha-din enters the realm of the inner meaning of the law: the right thing should be done not out of formal obligation under the law, but because the law’s inner justifications—which cannot be limited—mandate action even when the law’s ability to compel is limited.91 These exceptions expand the meaning of inwardness. The Hebrew vocabulary for inwardness was enriched in the medieval period. The words lev and penimiut were adopted as figurative expressions for the domicile of the intellect, that is, knowledge and thought:92 “‘Thus we allude to the intellect, and say that its seat is in the heart [lev] or brain.”93 87 For example, M Yoma 8:9. 88 Menachem Lorberbaum, “A Theory of Action in Halakhah: Intention in the Commandments” [Heb], Master’s thesis, Hebrew University, 1998, especially chaps. 2–3, 10–59. See the extensive discussion of this thesis in chapter one, in my discussions of intent in the performance of the commandments in the world of the rabbis. 89 Nathan ben Jehiel of Rome, Arukh ha-Shalem (Arukh Completum), ed. Alexander Kohut (Vienna, 1926), s.v. pan. 90 The view of Arukh ha-Shalem is supported by the following midrash: “‘That you shall set before them” [Exod. 21:1]—just as this inner essence [penimah] is not revealed to all human beings, likewise you do not have permission to submerse yourself in the words of Torah, except in the presence of suitable people” (Mekhilta d’Rabbi Sim‘on b. Jochai, ed. J. N. Epstein and E. Z. Melamed [Jerusalem: Mekize Nirdamim, 1955], 158, on Exod. 21:1. This quotation is based on the English translation: Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, trans. W. David Nelson [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2006], 259). 91 See below, chapter four, for the discussion on interiorization of the law. 92 R. Nathan ben Jehiel of Rome, in his Talmudic dictionary Arukh ha-Shalem, stresses in his discussion of the term lev the conceptual-intellectual aspect of the term: “Used metaphorically as the place of the intellect: knowledge and thought.” This interpretation disregards its metaphoric uses for the various emotions, impulses, and sensations characteristic of Biblical and rabbinic language. It would not be wrong to state that this interpretation is more reflective of the spiritual world of R. Nathan than of the assemblage of meanings that this term has in the Talmudic literature itself. 93 Judah Halevi, Kuzari 4:3. For English translation, see Halevi, The Kuzari: An Argument for the Faith of Israel, trans. Hartwig Hirschfeld (New York: Schocken, 1964), 203.




The figurative use of lev in the sense of intellectual knowledge frequently recurs in medieval poetry, as in the following poem by Moses Ibn Ezra: My thoughts arouse me, Thee to contemplate— To the mind’s eye [be-ein lev] they show Thy majesty; They teach my tongue Thy wonders to relate, When as Thy heavens, work of Thy hands, I see.94

With the identification of the lev and the intellect, a new use of the adjective penimi appears in medieval Hebrew. In response to a query on the meaning of the baraita [external Mishnah] “Four entered the Garden” in BT Hagigah 14b, R. Hai Gaon was, apparently, the first to use penimiut in a psychological, intellectual, or sensory meaning: We are of the opinion that the Holy One, blessed be He, performs miracles for the righteous and great wonders, it is not beyond His reach that He shows them in penimiut the wonders of His palaces and the realm of His angels.95

Wolfson showed the parallel use in medieval Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew literatures of the term ḥushim penimiim [literally, “inner senses”], as the array of inner forces responsible for human perception.96

94 Moses Ibn Ezra, “My Thoughts Arouse Me,” in Selected Poems of Moses Ibn Ezra, trans. Solomon Solis-Cohen, ed. Heinrich Brody (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1934), 124. Scheindlin writes on the “heart’s eye”: “But this ‘seeing’ is not the sight of the eyes; it is a seeing of the intellect, stimulated by thinking and performed with the ‘heart’s eye’; it is the application of reason to the phenomena of the universe, which leads to knowledge of God. This is exactly the conception of the true religious life embraced by philosophical-minded religious thinkers of the age. . . . Abraham Ibn Ezra regards this act of intellectual seeing as the highest religious duty” (Raymond P. Scheindlin, The Gazelle: Medieval Hebrew Poems on God, Israel, and the Soul [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991], 123). See also the terms ayin ha-lev and pnei ha-lev [literally, the “face of the heart”] in Ibn Ezra’s commentary to Exod. 32:18; and also Elliot R. Wolfson, “Merkavah Traditions in Philosophical Garb: Judah Halevi Reconsidered,” Proceedings of the American Academy of Jewish Research 57 (1991): 207–208 n. 90; Israel Levin, Abraham Ibn Ezra: His Life and Poetry [Heb] (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuhad, 1976), 196–98, and his references to the poems of R. Judah Halevi, 228–29 nn. 156, 160–164. 95 Otzar ha-Geonim, vol. 4: Tractate Jom-Tow, Chagiga and Maschin, ed. B. M. Lewin (Jerusalem: Vagshal, 1971), 14–15. For a detailed discussion of this issue, see below, chapter six, n. 85. 96 Harry Austryn Wolfson, “Maimonides on the Internal Senses,” Jewish Quarterly Review N. S. 25 (1935): 441–67.


Goldreich understood the Arabic term alam al-batin in Duties of the Heart by Bahya ibn Paquda, usually rendered as “the teaching of conscience” or “the teaching of inwardness,” as referring to events that occurs within man’s heart and are not seen by others, that is, the “duties of the hearts” (the literal translation of the book’s title).97 In many Islamic sources, however, another meaning of this term is widespread: an esoteric teaching, revealed only to the worthy and learned from the inner, concealed stratum of the scriptures.98 The dual meaning of this term is also characteristic of medieval Jewish literature, especially the Kabbalistic (see below). Abraham ben Moses ben Maimon (the son of the renowned Jewish philosopher Maimonides) speaks in Sefer ha-Maspik le-Ovdei Hashem of “the worship of the Lord, may He be exalted, in the inner essence—in the heart.”99 The meaning of avodah be-lev in this book can be explained by the following passage by al-Gazali on the meaning of the term “heart” in the Sufi literature: . . . then know that which seeks to press toward God in order to attain a place in His neighborhood is the heart and not the body. And by the heart I do not mean the palpable matter of flesh but one of the mysteries [sing. sirr] of God which the bodily senses fail to perceive.100

Thus, “inwardness” was defined in the Jewish and Muslim Sufi circles as the profound intuition that is indefinable in material terms or even in regular intellectual terms.101 97 Amos Goldreich, “Possible Arabic Sources of the Distinction between ‘Duties of the Heart’ and ‘Duties of the Limbs’” [Heb], Te’uda 6 (1988): 179–208. 98 Ibid., 181 n. 9. 99 Abraham ben Moses ben Maimon, Sefer ha-Maspik Le-Ovdey Hashem, ed. Nissim Dana (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University, 1989), chap. 25, 127. 100 Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad Al-Ghazali, Book of Knowledge, trans. Nabih Amin Faris (Lahore: Ashraf, 1962), 141. A. S. Yehudah, unlike his first thought concerning al-Ghazali’s influence on Bahya ibn Paquda, the author of Duties of the Heart, admitted that the two shared a common source. See David H. Baneth, “The Common Teleological Source of Bahye Ibn Paqoda and Ghazzali,” in Magnes Anniversary Book [Heb], edited by F. I Baer et al., Jerusalem: Hebrew University Press, 1938), 23–30, for a discussion of the influence of the Muslim ascetic al-Muhasibi on Bahya and on al-Ghazali. 101 For many Sufi mystics, “the concept of intellect did not play a major role, and at times they censure philosophers for the excessive importance that they attribute to the intellect” (Shlomo Pines, Studies in the History of Jewish Philosophy [Heb] [Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1997], 82). Abu Talib al-Makki cites Abu Mauhammad Sahl al-Tustari in his book Qut al-qulub, vol. 1 ([Cairo, 1961], 310).




The Concept of “Inwardness” in Kabbalah and Hasidism The conception of inner spheres and manifestations of the Divine Presence at the deepest stratum of divinity and the beginning of any differentiation recurred in the three Kabbalistic schools that flourished until the 1270s: the Kabbalah of Gerona and Provence, the Sefer ha-Iyyun circle, and the Castillian Kabbalists known as ha-aḥim ha-kohanim [“the priestly brothers”].102 The Sefer ha-Iyyun used the term penimiut for this stratum. R. Isaac the Blind writes in his commentary to Sefer Yetzirah: The wondrous routes are as tunnels within the stem of the tree, and wisdom is the root. These are inner [penimiot] and subtle entities; any creature can gaze, but merely [can] nurse from it. This is the manner of introspection, nursing from it, but not through knowledge.103

R. Jacob ben Sheshet wrote that both the Kabbalistic conception in the writings of R. Isaac the Blind and his circle and that of Maimonides were based on Platonic thought.104 Notably, as regards inwardness, the Sefer ha-Iyyun circle shifted its attention from human powers of the intellect to the divine arena.105 For them, “inwardness” referred to the study of the divine, that is, the study of Kabbalah and its texts, which are called “inner books.” 102 103



as stating that the intellect (‘aqal) is to be classified as “the doctrine of the external,” which is inferior to the “doctrine of the internal.” Moshe Idel, “The Sefirot above the Sefirot” [Heb], Tarbiz 51 (1981–1982): 259–60. Sefer Yetzirah: With the Commentary Or Yakar, the Commentaries of the Early Ones, R. Isaac the Blind, Nahmanides, and Rabbi Isaac of Acre (Jerusalem, 1989), 2. See Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, trans. Allan Arkush, ed. R. J. Zwi Werblowsky (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1987), 278–84; Idel, “Sefirot,” 241–42. See the formulation that recurs in the manuscripts of the Iyyun circle: “Sefer ha-Iyyun, this is Sefer ha-Iyyun composed by R. Hamai, the first of the speakers, on the topic of innerness.” See Mark Verman, The Books of Contemplation: Medieval Jewish Mystical Sources (Albany: SUNY Press, 1992), 34, 65, 90. “[F]or Plato uses literally the same expression, saying that God looks at the world of the intellects and that in consequence that which exists overflows from Him” (Maimonides, Guide 2:6 [trans.: Moses ben Maimon, The Guide, 263]). See what Maimonides writes (1:47 [trans.: Moses ben Maimon, The Guide, 105]): “Accordingly, the position with regard to the internal apprehensions is similar to that obtaining with regard to the external sensory apprehensions.” That is, Maimonides’s concept of innerness, that was common in his spiritual environment, referred to the assemblage of intellectual powers that enable connection to the inner speech, namely, the intellect itself, and that are called “inner” because they are not sensory. See Wolfson, “Maimonides.” The centrality of the term penima’ah as “divine inwardness” is pronounced in the Zohar, with at least 264 occurrences.


Twersky demonstrated that R. Abraham ben Nathan ha-Yarhi of Lunel, a student of R. Abraham ben David of Posquieres, was the first to use the term “inner books.”106 In the following generations we find that R. Moses de Leon spoke of “the inner ways of wisdom” in the introduction to Ha-Nefesh ha-Ḥakhamah,107 and R. Joseph Gikatila wrote of the “inner wisdoms” in Sha‘arei Orah.108 It is not surprising that the transition to the use of the term penimiut for the contemplation of the Godhead also included its use to describe esoteric, hidden literature. This secrecy was already formulated by the Mishnah: “The forbidden sexual relationships may not be expounded before three persons, nor the act of Creation before two, nor the Merkavah [“Divine Chariot”] before one, unless he is a sage who understands of his own knowledge.”109 The term penimiut was now given two parallel meanings: the secret study of the Godhead, and esoterica. The writings of sixteenth-century Safed Kabbalists such as R. Moses Cordovero and R. Hayyim Vital (the student of R. Isaac Luria) made increasing use of the term penimiut.110 While Cordovero’s usage continued the existing tradition,111 a new meaning was added to the terms “inwardness” and “outwardness” in Lurianic Kabbalah, especially in Vital’s Etz Ḥayyim.

106 See Isadore Twersky, Rabad of Posquieres: A Twelfth Century Talmudist (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962), 243 and n. 16. 107 Moses ben Shem Tov de Leon, Sefer ha-Nefesh ha-Ḥakhamah, Jerusalem, 1969, introduction, 1, col. b. 108 Joseph ben Abraham Gikatilla, Sha‘arei Orah, ed. Yosef ben Shlomo (Jerusalem, 1971), sha‘ar 1, 62. 109 M Hagigah 2:1. 110 The term penimiyut appears 461 times in Luria’s writings. 111 See, for example, Moses Cordovero, Pardes Rimmonim (Jerusalem, 1962), sha‘ar 31: Sha‘ar ha-Neshamah 6. Cordovero states that the essence of Kabbalistic thought is expressed in the Zohar’s interpretation of Adam’s expulsion. According to the Zohar, in the Garden of Eden Adam was garbed in light, but after his expulsion he was clothed in leather garments. Kordovero perceives man as a soul (read: inwardness) that, for the sake of its life in this world, is attired in a physical outer garb. The literal meaning of the stories of the Torah and its commandments relates to man’s physical, outer garb and constitutes the Torah’s outer aspect. The Kabbalistic interpretation of the Torah’s narratives relates to the world of the Sefirot, which are the inner aspect of the world; the exploration of the intellectual Kabbalistic intent accompanying the observance of the commandments is concerned with the inner essence of the Torah, that is, man’s soul and the soul of the world.




You are to understand from several expositions that the upper outwardness is much larger than the lower inwardness, and when the lower ascends to the upper, the inwardness of the lower becomes outwardness, to the upper outer. And the upper outwardness remains in the aspect of the inner, to the outwardness that is of the aspect of the lower inner.112

These terms did not refer to essence; they were place markers for finding one’s way in the Lurianic thicket of worlds. The depictions where these terms are used are mainly visual, denoting location in the spiritual expanse.113 Vital takes pains to strip them of the values they represent, and to transform them into technical terms, since their values change in accordance with the system they depict. The meanings that Cordovero assigned to makif and mukaf [literally, “surrounding” and “surrounded”]114 parallel Vital’s usage of penimiut and ḥitzoniut. In my opinion, the choice of terms shows the difference between Lurianic teachings and Cordovero’s thoughts.115Cordovero’s starting point 112 Hayyim Vital, Etz Ḥayyim, in Collected Writings of R. Isaac Luria (Jerusalem, 1988), Sha‘ar Penimiyut ve-Ḥitzoniyut, derush 3; see also derush 5, derush 14. 113 Idel observed that Cordovero incorporated two Kabbalistic models in his personality and writings: the theurgic-theosophic Kabbalistic model and the Eastern model of ecstatic Kabbalah. This is illustrated by what he writes in Shi‘ur Komah, fol. 10b. See Moshe Idel, “Universalization and Integration: Two Conceptions of Mystical Union in Jewish Mysticism,” in Mystical Union in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, ed. Moshe Idel and Bernard McGinn, 27–57 (New York: Continuum, 1996), 37–38. According to Idel, the first model is based on structures that are comparable only to Gnostic approaches. By means of Kabbalistic intents, the Kabbalist is capable of infusing these structures with his energy and influencing them. The second, philosophical, model is influenced by Ibn Ezra’s commentaries to Gen. 2:3, Exod. 23:21, and Num. 20:8, and is based on a philosophical theology that defines God as totally spiritual and unified, without any subdivision into Sefirot. In this model, the Kabbalist seeks either union with God by means of the purification of the soul or the realization of the Active Intellect. These will allow him to leave the earthly world, also defined as the world of division, approach the supernal world, and unite with it. See Idel, “Universalization,” 50–51. This analysis helps understand Cordovero’s emphasis of the spatial aspect of the terms “inwardness” and “outerness” and of their significance in terms of Kabbalistic values. On earlier spatial conceptions of God in Jewish thought, see Idel, “Universalization,” n. 25. 114 See Cordovero, Pardes Rimmonim, sha‘ar 6: Sha‘ar Seder Amidatam 3. 115 The concepts of inwardness and outwardness in Cordovero’s doctrine relate mainly to values. “That we say something is above something else, this means that it is superior, and not that it is [spatially] higher, as will be explained. Let the reader place these words of ours before his eyes, and not be one having bad thoughts, and not to think that he possesses any place. To the contrary, He [God] is the place of the world, and He has no place; He created the place in which every placeholder came into being” (Pardes Rimmonim, sha‘ar 6: Sha‘ar Seder Amidatam, chap. 3, fol. 29a–b).


is that the divine intellect creates place and does not occupy place.116 In contrast, Lurianic Kabbalah describes the Godhead as Ein-Sof, the fullness of all space that must make place for creation.117 Cordovero’s divinity has no actual spatial dimension, while Lurianic Godhead is perceived in terms of place. The former conception is characterized by its abstract intellectuality, while the latter is quite visual. For Cordovero, penimiut and ḥitzoniut have a symbolic meaning of “primal importance,” while the visual Lurianic notion imparts an additional locational meaning.118 The term nekudah penimit [“inner point”] in Vital’s writings refers to Keter within Malkhut, that is, the traces of the highest of the Sefirot—Keter within the lowest—Malkhut. It originated in Vital’s depiction of the creation of the worlds in Etz Ḥayyim: “And when it arose in His pristine will to create the worlds and emanate . . . Ein-Sof restricted Himself at the middle point.”119 The term “middle point” instead of “inner point” highlights the spatial aspect of this portrayal. Obviously, this appellation also echoes the original use of this term in the Sefer ha-Iyyun circle, namely, the most profound divine essence present in all the emanations.120 It should be stressed 116 What Cordovero writes in Or Yakar supports my argument. See Cordovero, Sifra de-Zeniuta with the Or Yakar commentary (MS. Modena 2a, on Zohar 2:176b; cited by Bracha Sack, Kabbalah of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero [Heb] [Beersheva: Ben-Gurion University Press, 1995], 82). Sack’s argument, that the Lurianic doctrine of tzimtzum has its roots in Cordovero’s Kabbalistic teachings (57–82), requires further attention. Like Luria, Cordovero also speaks of tzimtzum within God, but he does not understand it in a spatial sense, “for to those who know wisdom, it is known that in the [divine] world, there is no space at all” (77–78). The concept of place, according to Cordovero, is an abstraction. In contrast, the teachings of Luria’s disciples state that Ein-Sof limited Himself. 117 Vital, beginning of Etz Ḥayyim. 118 On the influence of Lurianic Kabbalah’s spatial-cosmogonic nature on scientific thought in Western Europe in the second half of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth century, through the book Kabbala Denudata by Christin Knorr von Rosenroth, see Brian P. Copenhaver, “Jewish Theologies of Space in the Scientific Revolution: Henry More, Joseph Raphson, Isaac Newton and Their Predecessors,” Annals of Science 37 (1980): 507–15. Copenhaver presents the spatial nature of Lurianic Kabbalah in light of the theory set forth by von Rosenroth. See Elliot Wolfson, Alef, Mem, Tau: Kabbalistic Musings on Time, Truth, and Death (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 72–98. 119 Vital, Etz Hayyim, fol. 11b. 120 See Hayyim Vital, Sha‘arei Kedushah ha-Shalem, ed. Amnon Gross (Tel Aviv: Gross, 2005), section 3, sha‘ar 2. Werblowsky concluded from this that, according to Luria’s conception, “[t]he ‘lower’ is always also the ‘outer’ cover, garment, or shell, surrounding the preceding ‘higher’, viz. more ‘interior’, level of existence to which it is related like body to soul. . . . From the celestial anthropos down to earthly man the same structure infinitely repeats itself ” (Werblowsky, Joseph Karo, 68).




that the visual picture in Lurianic Kabbalah does not negate the common identification of inwardness with spirituality in all Kabbalistic literature. Just one example of many is this passage by Vital from Likkutei Torah: All things in the world possess vitality, as just as man is created with body and soul, so, too, all things. And now, the Torah itself has body and soul. Body, as in the matter of garb, that is mentioned in the words of the Rabbis: gufei ha-Torah [i.e., the literal meanings of the Torah; literally, the “bodies of the Torah”]. And the Torah has inwardness, this is the soul.121

The tension between the teachings of these two Kabbalists regarding inwardness and outwardness comes to the fore in R. Moses Hayyim Luzzatto’s attempt to create a synthesis between the value-based and the technical aspects of Kabbalistic penimiut and ḥitzoniut.122 For Luzzatto, the “inner” and “outer” within the supernal worlds depict the relationships between their various components, as Vital emphasized. Despite this, the existence of outwardness, the activated vessels on which the bodies are dependent, is contingent upon the root of the soul, on the light within and around the vessels, which is the secret of the divine “inner.” The “outer” without the “inner” cannot exist, while the existence of inwardness is unconditional. To summarize our discussion of the medieval development of penimiut, it is noteworthy that the Bible and rabbis do not use this term, but speak mainly of the “heart” and “intent.” In the medieval period, penimiut described the world of the Godhead, and alternative terms came to depict inwardness in the sense of introspection aimed at communion with God or to denote inner aspects of religious life, including devekut,123 hitbodedut

121 Hayyim Vital, Likkutei Torah ve-Ta‘amei ha-Mitzvot , 245. 122 Moses Hayyim Luzzatto, Sefer ha-Kelalim, ed. Hayyim Friedlander (Bnei Brak, 1975), 359; see the gloss by Friedlander ad loc. 123 Afterman, Devequt. On the question of the relationship of the meaning of devekut in medieval philosophical and Kabbalistic thought and its significance in the Bible and the rabbinic literature, see ibid., chap. 1, 15–37.


[“seclusion”],124 ḥeshbon nefesh [a “spiritual accounting”],125and ruḥaniut [“spirituality”].126 In the Hasidism of the Baal Shem Tov, in the middle of the eighteenth century in Eastern Europe, the term penimiut was given a new meaning, which combined some of the Kabbalistic meanings described above and the original Biblical meaning of lev. This new meaning is the closest to my definition of the term “inwardness” in this book. This is the word of King David, may he rest in peace, who said [Ps. 109:22]: “And my heart is pierced within me.” This means, and my heart is my penimiut, for every inner thing is called “heart,” which is close to the meaning of the Zohar [2:128b], following [Ps. 27:8] “In your behalf my heart says,” for it is said of the Lord that He is his heart, since He is the penimiut [here: “the inner essence”] of everything.127

R. Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk, one of the leading disciples of the Maggid of Mezeritch (the leading disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, whose students in turn established the main branches of Hasidism), supports the Zohar’s exposition of the verse “you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him” (Exod. 25:2), stating that the “heart” in this verse is that of God,128 and connects it with the verse in Psalms: “And my heart is pierced within me.” In other words, man’s inwardness when pierced, when free of physical desires (as Menahem Mendel explains in the continuation of the passage), is the divinity that resides within him. The focus on the divine is transferred to the inner arena within man, where God resides when place is made for Him by overcoming physical attractions and by consciously connecting with the inner divine vitality that sustains man. The Baal Shem Tov’s grandson, R. Moses Hayyim Ephraim of Sudylkow, 124 See Moshe Idel, “Hitbodedut as Concentration in Ecstatic Kabbalah,” in Idel, Studies in Ecstatic Kabbalah, 69–103 (Albany: SUNY Press, 1988). See also idem, “Hitbodedut as Concentration in Jewish Philosophy” [Heb], Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 8 (1988): 39–60. 125 See Bahya ben Joseph Ibn Paquda, Ḥovot ha-Levavot, trans. Judah ibn Tibbon (Jerusalem, 1978), Sha‘ar Ḥeshbon ha-Nefesh. English translation: The Book of Direction to the Duties of the Heart, trans. Menahem Mansoor (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973), “On Self-Reckoning for God’s Sake,” 354–401. 126 Shlomo Pines, “On the Term Ruḥaniyyot and Its Origin and on Judah Halevi’s Doctrine” [Heb], Tarbiz 57 (1988): 511–40. 127 Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk, Peri ha-Aretz (Jerusalem, Zhitomyr, 1867), “Letters,” 58 (a letter from 1784). 128 On the Zohar’s exposition of this verse, see below, chapter four, n. 92.




holds this idea as self-evident when he speaks of “the divinity inherent within him, within a person’s nefesh, ruaḥ, neshamah [all usually rendered as ‘soul’].”129 The “inner point” reappears in Sefat Emet, written by the founder of Gur Hasidism, R. Judah Aryeh Leib Alter. It derives from the same context, and refers to man’s inner desire for God: This is the meaning of the shekalim, to arouse generosity in Israel, for God’s undoubtedly does not desire the half-shekel, but only the arousing of the inner desire between Israel and their Father in heaven. For in every Israelite there is an inner point solely for the Lord Himself. . . . The inner will to devote all [in place of the shekalim] to the Lord, may He be praised, awakens in man because of our not having the holy Temple, by our many sins. The love of the Lord awakens in Israel by itself, and they are capable of repenting out of joy. Nisan is the new year for months, from the aspect of renewal that comes from joy and love of the Lord.130

Continuing the idea set forth in the Zohar, these passages indicate, once again, that where this inner will is directed to the divine, this will itself is the inner point, that is, the divine within man. The inner space within man’s soul is the dwelling place of the divine, which is manifest upon the removal of obstructions such as desire and personal interest. ***

This historical and philological survey of the terms used to denote the psychological aspects in Jewish thought charted the development of the differing meanings of these words and phrases. We saw that in the past the term penimiut and its derivatives were used not only in psychological contexts, but in completely different settings, such as the literary esoterica surrounding various scientific and pseudoscientific pursuits that burgeoned in

129 Moses Hayyim Ephraim of Sudylkow, Degel Maḥaneh Efrayim (Jeusalem, Books export enterprises, 1963), exposition for Shabbat Teshuvah, 266–69. 130 Judah Aryeh Leib Alter, Sefat Emet: Novellae on All the Sabbaths in the Year and the Festivals (Jerusalem, 1952), Parshat Shekalim (from 1871), 124. On the inner point in Gur and Alexander Hasidism, see Mendel Piekarz, “‘The Inner Point’ of the Admorim of Gur and Alexander as a Reflection of Their Ability to Adjust to Changing Times” [Heb], in Studies in Jewish Mysticism, Philosophy, and Ethical Literature Presented to Isaiah Tishby, ed. Joseph Dan and Joseph Hacker (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1986), 617–60.


the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.131 In that period, the esoteric stratum became the basis of inner religious life, not necessarily in the psychological sense, but by enabling the religious elite to realize what it perceived as the inner goal of religion.132 Liebes suggested another possible understanding of esotericization when he discussed the relation between the Heikhalot and Talmudic literatures. Liebes maintained that for the rabbis, the sage’s knowledge of hidden things is not outer knowledge and has its source in inner intuition, not in tradition.133 For example, in the narrative “Vinegar, son of wine” in BT Bava Metzia 83b, R. Eleazar ben Simeon has the ability to recognize improper social behaviors conducted behind closed doors. In the Heikhalot literature, the intuitive knowledge of the sages of the Talmud is formalized and becomes a more technical, conscious, and secret matter, and therefore undergoes exteriorization. This understanding of esoteric teachings as exteriorization relates to intuitiveness (inwardness) as compared with the formalization (outwardness) of knowledge, regardless of the contents of this knowledge. An awareness of the development of the terms denoting the religious life of the psyche in the Jewish sources, from the Bible to Hasidism, is essential for our comprehension of the terms in the current work that relate to the psychological aspects of inwardness (and not to other meanings, such as secrecy, place in the “divine expanse,” or intuitiveness).

The Comparative Study of Religion In order to examine the existence and nature of inner religious life in the Jewish sources, I will employ comparative phenomenological methodology and map the diverse aspects of this life by comparing data from different religions. Despite the harsh attacks directed against this methodology in recent decades, I am convinced it is still fundamentally valid.134 131 See the extensive discussion in Moshe Halbertal, Concealment and Revelation: Esotericism in Jewish Thought and Its Philosophical Implications, trans. Jackie Feldman (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007). 132 Halbertal, Concealment and Revelation, 39. For Ibn Ezra, for example, the astrologicalhermetic worldview became the inner meaning of Judaism. 133 Liebes, “Externalization.” 134 The researcher of religion Jonathan Z. Smith wrote in 1982 that religion is merely a scholarly construct (Smith, Imagining Religion from Babylon to Jonestown [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982], 11). See also Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore: John Hopkins




Scholars of religion must be attentive to this critique and correct the mistakes of the past accordingly, in order to provide a firmer basis for the comparative study of religions in the present and in the future. For example, one of the stinging criticisms directed against Mircea Eliade, the most important scholar of religion to adopt this methodology in the second half of the twentieth century, is the claim that “comparisons of phenomena that are insufficiently defined in culture A with phenomena lacking precise definition and analysis in culture B are not science.”135 If similar phenomena are discovered in different religions that are distant from one another, and the researcher is not aware of the unique contexts and traits of these phenomena, the comparison will become a worthless fad, as, for instance, Werblowsky claims regarding Eliade’s sweeping use of the term “shamanism.”136 Werblowsky argues that with broad generalizations of this sort Eliade descended to the absurd, “identify[ing] the ‘spirituality of Asia,’ as distinguished from that of the modern West, with that of the ‘archaic world,’ and the experience of a Buddhist monk with that of a Paleolithic hunter or with any ecstatic mysticism.”137 Notwithstanding my agreement with some aspects of this critique, in both this specific example and the general argument,138 I do not concur entirely with the sweeping conclusions that go to the opposite extreme and would do away with comparative phenomenological methodology. Similar University Press, 1993), 29, 40–43, 47–48; Russell T. McCutcheon, Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Timothy Fitzgerald, The Ideology of Religious Studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Daniel Dubuisson, The Western Construction of Religion: Myth, Knowledge, and Ideology (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2003); Willie Braun, “Religion,” in Guide to the Study of Religion, ed. Willie Braun and Russel T. McCutcheon (London: Cassell, 2000), 3–21; William E. Arnal, “Definition,” in Guide to the Study of Religion, ed. Willie Braun and Russel T. McCutcheon (London: Cassell, 2000), 21–35. 135 R. J. Zwi Werblowsky, “Is There a Phenomenology of Religion?” [Heb], Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 13 (1996): 291. 136 See Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, trans. William R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972). 137 Werblowsky, “Phenomenology,” 291–92. 138 See my opposition to the description of the Hasidic tzaddiq as a shaman, and the distinction that I draw between the perspective of the tzaddiq and that of the Hasid (Margolin, Human Temple, 420–25). Following Werblowsky’s critique of Eliade, I find it important to distinguish between the world of the pagan shamans and that of the Baal Shem Tov. Even if the perception of the tzaddiq’s activity by the Hasidic masses is shamanistic, the self-perception of the tzaddiq himself is different.


religious phenomena occur in distant parts of the globe and in different historical periods. Even if their likeness is only partial because of contextual or essential differences, denying the existence of any similarity between them undercuts the very meaning of the term “religion” as denoting a universal phenomenon. In effect, this critique claims that scholars of religion are occupied with phenomena unique to the specific culture in which they arise. Consequently, such comprehensive criticism calls into question the possibility of using, in the scientific investigation of singular phenomena, universal terms and tools such as “religion,” “prayer,” “sacrifice,” and the like, because these phenomena are highly particular. Science is not only describing the phenomena, but also, based on optimal description, drawing conclusions as inclusive as possible concerning the nature of a described phenomenon. The denial of the ability to draw universal conclusions pertaining to more or less similar religious phenomena that occur all over the world and throughout human history is driven, inter alia, by political conceptions that criticize religious studies as a Western-biased remnant of the colonial period. Opposing these claims, Moshe Idel states that the complexity of religious phenomena is the cause of faults with general religious terms, since no single methodology can fully illuminate the world’s religions without being reductive. According to Idel, in light of unqualified criticism that totally invalidates universal terminology in religious studies, scholars must choose their eclectic research methods and consider the sociological differences responsible for the major features of the specific phenomena.139 My aim in this book is to highlight the common denominators of religious phenomena throughout the world. Thus, my fundamental assumption is that, despite the vast disparities between, for example, the types of rites in Hinduism and Judaism, for example, they both demonstrate interiorization: the attention of people performing Hindu and Jewish rites shifts from the (“objective”) world to the (“subjective”) mind and soul. In short, interiorization is common to the Indian and the Jewish worlds. Yet I do not argue for the position that this is necessarily the case under all conditions and in all situations. Rather, I aim to demonstrate the existence of a common universal element that underlies geographically diverse religious phenomena. 139 Moshe Idel, Ascensions on High in Jewish Mysticism: Pillars, Lines, Ladders (Budapest: Central European Academic Press, 2005), 1–4.




Anyone wishing to predict future developments in the world’s religions would be well advised to consider the sociological data used by the early twentieth-century proponents of the theory of secularization. At the same time, it is important to keep in mind insights concerning the different religious developments that emerge from the universal phenomenon that I call “religious interiorization.” The comparative discussion of religions obviously requires greater caution and sensitivity than was shown by leading writers in the twentieth century. However, the hasty elimination of this important approach of comparative religion may result in the loss of the primary reason to engage in the study of religion at all. Moreover, although the need for greater sensitivity to differences is evident, excessive attention to subtleties and differences should not be demanded of any broad comparative phenomenological research. The greater the attention to these individual “trees,” the more difficult it will be for the researcher to see the shared “forest.” In this book I shall attempt to present a phenomenological description of the six dimensions of inner religious life that can be found in many religions. The facts are there, irrespective of whether philological and historical connections can be surmised or proven, or whether this is not possible, for substantive reasons, such as geographical or historical distance, or for technical reasons. Any indication of similarity always assumes that it does not suffice to rule out disparity. Even if it can be explained on historical or philological grounds, this likeness is based on the existence of common human characteristics that underlie different religious cultures. Each dimension described below will be illustrated by very different examples, yet a comparative discussion will reveal a fundamental shared infrastructure, according to which these examples will be grouped, at least for scholarly purposes. For example, Ramakrishna states that true piety is not dependent on outer circumstances, but exists only due to inner motives. This assertion, mentioned above,140 is not unique to Hinduism. This principle can also be found in Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism, even though its object is sometimes different: it is not piety, but awe or self-submission. The conception that the highest form of worship is not performed due to outer social constraints, but is a result of man’s inner accounting, and may attest to the 140 See above, n. 21.


meaning of life being independent of social matters. Religious activity free of outer considerations, which the rabbis define as actions “for the sake of Heaven,” is a metaprinciple in general religious thought, and expressed in different ways in accordance with differing cultural contexts. Common denominators of this sort are at the foundations of many different religions. Our discussion of inner life may pave the way for an examination of some other shared denominators, such as sacrifice and prayer, religious myths, and religious beliefs. Any scientific examination must establish a criterion outside the discussion. Research into inner religious in Judaism naturally leans toward synchronism, while being aware of developmental historical continuity. The distinctions between different historical periods or literary genres that substantially separate, for example, Talmudic and Kabbalistic literature, do not disappear, but become marginal in respect to the inner data present in all kinds of literary and religious sources that nourish the inner life of the Jews. Along with general questions regarding the raison d’être of the comparative study of religions, comparativist scholars themselves also point to problems. In the twentieth century, Rudolf Otto compared two spiritual figures who exhibit phenomenological affinity in his Mysticism East and West, the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart and the Indian mystic Shankara. Otto’s book became a model for comparisons between religious and philosophical life in the West the East, highlighting similarities and differences between the two worlds. In Crossing Horizons, Shlomo Biderman noted the centrality of interiorization in Indian civilization, and argued that inner religious life in the three monotheistic religions significantly differed from that characteristic of the Indian world. Indian interiorization is reflected in the change that Upanishads culture brought to the Vedic concept of the atman, and in Buddhist introspection. Biderman maintains that in Indian culture, inner religious life is infinitely more central and important than in Western religions. Western religiosity is mainly outer, while Indian religiosity is primarily inner. He traces this distinction to the Western focus on transcendence and contrasts it with the dominance of immanence in Indian culture. This emphasis on immanence enabled the development of Buddhist atheism, fostering man’s inner contemplation of emptiness. According to Biderman, the inner phenomena in the monotheistic religions, Western mysticisms, and other aspects of interiorization in the West are mainly reactions to Western transcendence and the characteristically




Western preference for the outer over the inner.141 To his claim we should add the difference in the standing of the individual: Western culture is centered around the concepts of individuality and individual will as they developed in recent centuries.142 This raises obstacles for the examination of Jewish or Western religious innerness together with the Indian. I will now briefly touch on the question of whether it is possible to discuss the kind of religious innerness common to these worlds if they are separated by such a profound disparity with regard to their conception of God, as Biderman and others argue. The perspective on Western culture proposed by Biderman ascribes considerable weight to Greek philosophy’s interest in the transcendent— especially as found in the thought of Plato and Aristotle, which deeply influenced the monotheistic cultures of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in the medieval period. The major commentaries on religious writings penned at that time were undoubtedly composed under the influence of the Greeks or while grappling with their ideas. In Judaism, Maimonides’s writings are the epitome of this process. Furthermore, as Scholem suggested, the writings of the Kabbalists can be viewed as a reaction to Maimonides’s transcendent interpretation. Unlike Scholem, who assumed that this response was fueled mainly by sources external to Judaism, contemporary Kabbalah scholars, with Moshe Idel as the leading proponent of this school, showed that the building blocks from which the Kabbalists constructed their alternative world of ideas are taken mainly from the midrashic world of the rabbis. Even the approach that places monotheistic transcendence at the very heart of the Bible, chiefly formulated by Yehezkel Kaufmann, is increasingly refuted by many contemporary Bible scholars.143 There is increasing agreement that transcendent and immanent viewpoints coexisted in the ancient Western world, and especially in the world of the Bible and the rabbis, with no clear prevalence of one or the other. Phenomena such as the anthropomorphic divine images that infuse biblical and rabbinic texts, the centrality of prayer that assumes the possibility of a dialogue between man and God, the perception of man as created in the image of God, and the like, attest that God’s immanence did not

141 Shlomo Biderman, Crossing Horizons: World, Self, and Language in Indian and Western Thought, trans. Ornan Rotem (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 45–54. 142 Ibid., 119–29. 143 See the passage by Muffs, cited above, n. 71.


completely disappear in this world and did not free the stage for extreme transcendent notions. In light of the above, I propose viewing the disparity between East and West on this issue in a different light. Immanence was always present in Western culture. Moreover, it developed, and there is a continuity between early and later religious immanence in the West. However, in time, the transcendental elements intensified, limiting immanence and even seeking to cancel it, essentially creating Western religion as described by Biderman. I maintain that interiorization and the intensification of inner religious life in Western culture are not simply a reaction to the dominance of transcendence and objectivity. Rather, they rested on the immanent foundation already present there. However, the strengthening of transcendence in the West attenuated the force of religious immanence to the extent that it was seen as a psychological reduction and as God’s severance from the world. Indian culture experienced a different process: interiorization intensified, creating a ground for the kind of inner contemplation characteristic of Buddhist atheism. Indian culture chose immanence and religious interiorization, while the West took a different way. In the nineteenth century, the immanent element in Western culture was detached from its religious foundation, and individual will was placed at the center of existence, as in Nietzsche’s teachings. Hans Jonas portrayed the unique development that led to the intensification of individualism and individual will in Western culture not as a reaction to transcendence, but as a consequence of the dialectic between the transcendental and the immanent elements, between objectivity and subjectivity: Western metaphysics of the will, whose roots were Jewish-Christian . . . is a fruit of the encounter between the Jewish-Christian and the Greek standpoints: without the dialectical stress against the essentialistintellectualist parti pris of traditional philosophy, there would hardly have arisen a theory of the primacy of the will—with all the consequences such a theory entails. . . . [T]he road of this Western voluntarism . . . had, in fact, two distinct points of departure: on the one hand, Augustine’s stress on the will in man, as the ultimate locus of the drama of sin and salvation; on the other, the Jewish-Islamic stress on the will in God, as the first principle of creation and individual existence. It was the fusion, in later medieval thought, of these two strains, the theological and the anthropological, or, the




metaphysical and the psychological, or, as we may also say, the objective and the subjective, which terminated in the powerful ascendency of voluntarism in the West.144

Jonas explained the gap that exists here between Jewish and Christian culture by pointing to the differences between various trends present in the monotheistic religions in the Middle Ages: It is not that the subjective aspect is missing on the Jewish side. The freedom of the human will, as the counterpart of divine justice, was consistently argued by the Jewish thinkers often in opposition to the determinism of their Islamic contemporaries. But freedom of the will need not mean its primacy; and on Jewish premises there is no reason for “radical” voluntarism, that is to say, for focusing the total essence of man in the unfathomable doings and events of his will . . . although both voluntarism and individualism, as we have seen, were native to the Jewish position in its confrontation with the Hellenic one, we find both—and the issues they posed—immeasurably sharpened in the Christian ambient.145

On the question of will, Jonas distinguished between the radical voluntarism in Catholicism and the moderate voluntarism of Judaism. However, he noted that this difference does not negate the existence of a common denominator in the treatment of this question by the two cultures. Similarly, I argue that the disparities between the Indian and Western cultures on the subject of religious interiorization should not call into question the fundamental existence of such a shared element. Western culture did not develop solely on the basis of transcendence and objectivity. Subjective and immanent data existed there from the beginning, just as in early Indian culture. Generally speaking, the transcendent and objective elements that were greatly enhanced in Western culture did not cancel out the other elements, which continued to exist in a dialectical relationship with the former ones. This is not the place for a scholarly discussion of the primacy of the immanent and subjective elements in early cultures, but clearly, in Indian culture and in Western culture, as well, the later interiorization trends drew upon the early immanence and subjectivity that were present in this cultures from the very beginning.

144 Jonas, Philosophical Essays, 39. 145 Ibid., 39–40.


The comparative study of religion is one of the most impressive products of the humanist worldview and it provides the basis for the scientific study of the human spirit, namely, the humanities. Without fundamental humanist assumptions, it would not be possible to conduct a comparative study of religions that attribute their scriptures to the divine and consider them beyond human creation. By force of universalist humanistic thought, scholars seek the shared components among religions that emerge from an analysis of their differences. The comparative study of religion certainly has well-known limitations, as briefly mentioned above, but at times objections to such research, presented in the guise of scientific arguments, have hidden agendas, such as sectarian loyalty or even racism. The underlying reason for the dismissal of comparative religion is that emphasis on shared elements might weaken the alleged superiority of one of the compared belief systems. Against this, it should be stated that the phenomenological comparison of religions based on humanist thought contributes, even if only indirectly, to the strengthening of humanist values. Scientific thought cannot assume an absolute supernal source of values, institutions, and social structures, even if it is thought to possess them. Notwithstanding this, we must admit that the discovery of what is common to different religious phenomena, despite geographical distances and historical and social disparities between them, is a kind of objectivization based on a demonstration of the universal humanistic element shared by the different phenomena. Accordingly, our discussion of the different manifestations of religious interiorization and inner religious life using the tools of comparative phenomenology will be free of any metaphysical assumptions. Even so, uncovering the shared within the disparate imparts added force to the observed phenomena, due to their revealed universality.


Chapter One

Ritual Interiorization and Intent for Commandments

Ceremonialism, Intent, and Religious Interiorization in World Religions: Myth-Ritual Theory and the Study of Religion Ritual and ceremonial behavior are among the most prominent characteristics of religious phenomenon. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, scholars concentrated on the relationship between ritual and myth, and developed what is known as myth-ritual theory.1 Less was written in those years about what ritual actually is,2 and even less has been written since then on the individual inner intents accompanying religious ritual acts. The discussion of the relationship between ritual and myth is grounded in the general conceptual sphere, while the examination of the believer’s intentionality during the performance of a ritual focuses on what happens within the psyche and draws upon religious literature dedicated to these matters. William Robertson Smith, who is considered to be the founder of myth-ritual theory, was convinced that ceremonialization precedes 1 For current surveys of myth and ritual theory, see Robert A. Segal (ed.), The Myth and Ritual Theory: An Anthology (Malden: Blackwell, 1998); Henk S. Versnel, Transition and Reversal in Myth and Ritual (Leiden: Brill, 1993), 16–88. 2 Walter Burkert, Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 36. On developments in the twentieth century in the study of ritual, see below.


Part One: Ritual and Custom

conceptual significance and that, further, it is relatively unimportant to any ceremony itself. In his Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, Smith maintained that in ancient religions rituals were completely divorced from meaning.3 Scrupulous observance of ritual rules was associated with totally vague meanings, he argued, hence the simultaneous—and amicably coexisting—differing explanations for the same rite. This and other reasons led Smith to conclude that myths were derived from rites, and not vice versa. Smith’s two colleagues at Cambridge, James Frazer and Jane Ellen Harrison,4 generally supported his belief in the precedence of ritual. However, in her second book, Harrison described rituals as expressing basic and even primitive ideas concerning the spirits of fertility and growth.5 In her third book, on methodology,6 she listed three different forms of connection between myth and ritual: myth as ensuing from a ritual, myth and ritual as mutually derived, and myth as a scenario for a dramatic ritual.7 In the first half of the twentieth century, the study of ritual developed in various directions. In addition to Freud’s psychological approach, this period witnessed the rise of structuralism, the chief proponents of which were H. Huber, M. Mauss, A. Van Gennep, and C. Levi-Strauss.8 Research into rituals undertaken in recent decades, such as that of Catherine Bell, and Roy Rapaport and Ronald Grimes, for example, has developed new perspectives that I will not discuss here in depth.9 Some writers have 3 William Robertson Smith, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, First Series: The Fundamental Institutions (Edinburgh: A. and C. Black, 1889), 18–21. See also Robert A. Segal, Myth: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 61–72. 4 Frazer published the first volume of his famous work The Golden Bough in 1890; see James G. Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion (London: Macmillan, 1890). In that year Harrison published her first book. See Jane E. Harrison, Mythology and Monuments of Ancient Athens (London: Macmillan, 1890). 5 Jane E. Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (New York: Meridian, 1955). 6 Jane E. Harrison, Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion (Cambridge: University Press, 1912). 7 Versnel, Transition and Reversal, 29. 8 Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss, Sacrifice: Its Nature and Function, trans. W. D. Halls (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964); Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage, trans. Monike B. Vizedom and Gabrielle L. Cafee. (Chicago: Routledge & Paul, 1960); Claude Levi Strauss, Structural Anthropology, trans. Claire Jacobson and Brook Grundfest Schoepf (New York: Basic Books, 1963). 9 See Burkert, Structure and History, and his references to the scholarly literature that discusses the nature of ritual. See also Catherine Bell, Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), Roy A. Rappaport, Ritual and Religion in the

Ritual Interiorization and Intent for Commandments  •  CHAPTER ONE

­ ostulated the existence of myths independent of rituals, and vice versa, p which suggests a more complex relationship between the two.10 These insights more forcefully raise questions concerning the primal nature of the ritual and the relationship between the ritual and the accompanying inner intentionality. Rituals are not merely religious ceremonies; they are assemblages of acts performed according to a predetermined order and at fixed and known times.11 The religious phenomenologist van der Leeuw explained, by means of an everyday example, the difference between a deed and a rite. He maintained that to leave the house in haste is a deed, while leaving every day at a set time and taking measured steps in the street is a solemn practice, a ritual act that slows down and intensifies the flow of life.12 The solemnity in his example might be misleading and cause us to conclude that every ritual act is accompanied by profound thought. But just as the fixed nature of the rite in question is an outer feature, solemnity, too, could be no more than a facial expression and outer form of behavior that impart a sense of gravity to the performance. Van der Leeuw emphasized the element of solemnity typical of ceremoniality but disregarded other features. Later attempts to define rite tended to favor general traits equally common to religious and secular, mundane rites. Goody, for instance, defined ritual as “a category of standardized behavior (custom) in which the relationship between the means and the end is not ‘intrinsic’, i.e. is either irrational or non-rational.”13 A definition of this sort completely ignores, for example, rites of passage and initiation rites in which the connection between means and goal is manifest.14 Walter Burkert, who studied Greek and Roman mythology, commented that this definition, which assumes that behavior must be clear and rational, connects means and goals, and overlooks the communicative Making of Humanity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), and Ronald L. Grimes, The Craft of Ritual Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). 10 Versnel, Transition and Reversal. 11 On repetition as a central characteristic of rituals, see J. Cazeneuve, “Le principe de repetition dans le rite,” Cahiers internationaux de sociologie 23 (1957): 42–62. 12 See van der Leeuw, Religion in Essence, 341. 13 Jack Goody, “Religion and Ritual: The Definitional Problem,” British Journal of Sociology 12 (1961): 159. 14 See Gennep, Rites of Passage; Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation: The Mysteries of Birth and Rebirth, trans. William R. Trask (New York: Harper & Row, 1958); Victor Witter Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (Chicago: Aldine, 1969).



Part One: Ritual and Custom

function of behavior.15 This observation is influenced by an awareness of the similarity between human and animal ritual behavior that grew in the second half of the twentieth century. This view of ritual behavior was also influenced by the work of the ethologists Julian Huxley and his student Konrad Lorenz. Shortly before the First World War, Huxley showed, by observing loons, that during the evolution of a species certain patterns of movement lose their initial unique functions and become purely “symbolic” rites in a process he called “ritualization.”16 In his book On Aggression, Lorenz brings examples of ritualization among animals and their different roles.17 Different types of animals that live in social contexts exhibit disparate forms of group behavior that were originally acquired as biological functions and later became independent from their origin, having acquired a new type of meaningful communication within the group. These ritual acts are stereotypical, repetitive, exaggerated, and at times are performed in dramatic fashion. The most impressive ritualization was observed among predators who create seemingly moral conduct. Lorenz learned that large predators that always live together, such as wolves or lions, have constant inhibiting mechanisms, which are independent of the animal’s changing moods. Paradoxically, the deadliest predators, such as wolves, possess effective inhibitions against murder. This prevents the strong from killing the weak. Specifically, when a strong wolf, for example, is superior to a weaker animal, inhibition intensifies and restrains the former from killing the later. Thus the species is preserved. The weaker wolf turns his head aside in the presence of his stronger rival, exposing the most vulnerable part of its neck. This submission suffices to deprive the stronger of his ability to press the attack. The stronger conducts the rite of attack but does not actually perform it.18 15 Burkert, Structure and History, 159 n. 13. 16 Julian Huxley, “The Courtship Habits of the Great Crested Grebe,” Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 35 (1914): 511–15. 17 Konrad Lorenz, On Aggression, trans. Marjorie Latzke (London: Methuen, 1967); idem, “Evolution of Ritualization in the Biological and Cultural Aspects,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society London series B 251 (1966): 273–84. 18 Lorenz, On Aggression, 110–14. At times the ceremony is the opening of the opposite of an attack. For example, a female’s threat to a strange male might become a manifestation of love. This love is created from anger, and the stranger becomes the female’s chosen mate. Lorenz argued that the aggressive instinct, which is stemmed and amasses in the animal, with no outlet or release, occasionally leads to neurosis. His observations teach that if an animal breaks the rules, it shows signs of remorse (Lorenz, On Aggression, 141–88).

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Lorenz often drew analogies between rites that originated in the evolution of species in the animate world, that is, those of phylogenetic origin, and those with a cultural-historical origin to show the similarity of behavior in the animal kingdom and the human world, despite the disparate manners of their formation.19 Lorenz’s writings led researchers into ritual and myth to ask whether these analogies were a case of misleading linguistic usage or whether there were biological findings that could aid in understanding the human dimension of ritualization.20 Burkert sought to use Lorenz’s biological definitions in his pioneering examination of the study of rituals. He showed that in certain cases a biological explanation could shed light on a rites that could not be convincingly interpreted in another way. For example, the pouring of oil in the narrative of Jacob’s dream in Bethel (Gen. 28:18) is an example of a libation rite that has parallels in many diverse cultures. Burkert argued that this ceremony has its roots in the marking of territory practiced by animals.21 Burkert concluded that human rites should be examined from a biological perspective, which at times enables them to also be interpreted in a religious context, “as an action pattern redirected for demonstration, sometimes unaltered, sometimes transformed into a purely symbolic action, or even into an artifact. We understand the sign as evolving from an original, pragmatic behavior, and retaining its meaning even through some shifts of emphasis.”22 Burkert’s assumption of a biological source for ritual behavior in general, and especially in religious practice, makes it possible to argue against a necessary connection between myth and ritual. Furthermore, even in instances in which ritual is explained as the realization of a myth within the context of religious life, the individual who performs such a ritual could act independently of the myth; for example, someone compelled to act by the external motives of social circumstances, fears, and habits.

Rite and Religious Ritualization According to Freud, Lorenz, and Buber In his 1907 essay “Obsessive Actions and Religious Practices,” Freud argued for the close similarity between a neurotic’s obsessive actions and the rituals 19 Ibid., 47–71. 20 Burkert, Structure and History, 36; see n. 17. 21 Ibid., 39–45. 22 Ibid., 45.



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of a religious person. Such religious actions, he asserted, serve to demonstrate the believer’s faith and religious piety.23 The likeness between the two is evident in the pangs of conscience aroused by mistakes, the distinct separation of obsessive and ritual actions from other actions by the prohibition of disturbance, and the punctilious performance of each and every detail. Freud also, however, noted the existence of significant differences between obsessive acts and religious practices. The former are personal and various, while religious deeds are stereotypical and therefore ritual; obsessive actions are conducted individually, and even in secret, while the latter are conducted publicly, with the participation of others; and finally, the former seem childish and illogical, while the latter are accompanied by logical and symbolic intents. The first two distinctions are irrefutable, but the third is less compelling. The disparity between obsessive and religious ritual acts dissipates to a great degree in light of an awareness of the religious context. Indeed, as Freud himself argued, most believers are unaware of the deep motives of religious rites, which are known only to religious teachers (and researchers); they perform these acts without wondering about their meaning, which is mainly symbolic.24 Freud assumed that religion has intellectual foundations but that the transferal of value from psychological motives to obsessive performances is characteristic of the behavior of the religious masses, just as is the case for obsessive actions.25 “[T]he petty ceremonials of religious practice gradually become the essential thing and push aside the underlying thoughts. That is why religions are subject to reforms which work retroactively and aim at re-establishing the original balance of values.”26 Both Freud and Smith maintained that, already in antiquity, religious rituals conduct by the believing masses were not directly dependent on an awareness of content. This is supported not only by the Biblical prophets’ critique of those who perform the commandments by rote (Isa. 29:13); Burkert, who studied the classical world, cites the Roman Seneca,

23 Sigmund Freud, “Obsessive Actions and Religious Practices,” in Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. James Strachey (London: Hogarth, 1959), 9:115–27. 24 Ibid., 122–23. 25 Although Freud seems to have been deeply influenced by William Robertson Smith’s book (see Freud, Totem and Taboo, 132–55), he did not heed the latter’s warnings against the anachronistic modern habit of examining religion mainly from a perspective of the faithful. See Smith, Lectures, 17. 26 Freud, “Obsessive Actions,” 126.

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who claimed that most of those who believed in Roman religion did so without knowing why.27 Lorenz, who was acquainted with Freud’s essay, stressed the similarity between the ritual behavior of animals and the obsessive behavior present in a minor degree in many children, and indicated that both originated in a behavioral mechanism of obvious utility for the existence of the species. The less that man knows about causal connections, the more important it is for him to embrace any conduct that proved itself more than once and that he can trust as riskless and as leading to the goal. Adherence to minor details, no matter how enslaving, provides security and peace of mind. Lorenz therefore argued that even when rites become mandates of culture, tradition, or the superego—for example, when religiously commanded— the habit that has taken hold remains appealing. The important trait of both cultural and biological rites, then, is that they become active and independent elements that themselves influence social behavior. A Jew who is happy when he builds and decorates his sukkah [the “booth” that becomes a temporary residence on the Sukkot holiday] or a Christian who rejoices when decorating a Christmas tree attest that tradition is a habit about which its practitioners have grown fond. This warm feeling increases a person’s loyalty to his symbols and gives them a semblance of value.28 Lorenz gave the Freudian linkage between religious rite and obsessive behavior a biological underpinning explained primarily by the struggle for the preservation of the species. Lorenz totally reduced the religious rite, since, according to him, the basis of the warm feeling accompanying the rite is expressed in religious symbols and values inherent in biological needs similar to those seen in the ritual behavior of animals.29 27 Burkert, Structure and History, 38. 28 Lorenz, On Aggression, 59–63. 29 Among contemporary researchers of religious rituals, Burkert is definitely the most influenced by Lorenz’s reductive stance; see Walter Burkert, Creation of the Sacred: Tracks of Biology in Early Religions (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996). Other researchers who acknowledge the biological element of ceremonialism placed greater emphasis on the behaviorist significance of the ritual phenomenon; see, for example, Roy A. Rappaport, Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), especially his definition, 24; or Ithamar Gruenwald, Rituals and Ritual Theory in Ancient Israel (Leiden: Brill, 2003). The latter observed that ritual is a formational behavioral phenomenon that is not characteristic only of the religious and social aspect. It also gives expression to mental activity as a result of a special biological trait that enables communication with the reality; see Gruenwald, Rituals, 3–12.



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It is important at this juncture to consider a completely different response to Freud’s ideas, namely, Martin Buber’s stance regarding belief and religious rite. Unlike Freud, who asserted that religion has its origins in intellectual contents that metamorphosed into ritualization, Buber stated that religion has its source in the I-Thou relationship, which is singular in its nonverbal nature. The essence of this relationship is the encounter that befalls man and that cannot be understood as a subjective experience, but as a presence. “The Word of revelation is I am that I am. That which reveals is that which reveals. That which is is, and nothing more. The eternal source of strength streams, the eternal contact persists, the eternal voice sounds forth, and nothing more.”30 But like Freud, Buber also thought that institutionalized religion is characterized by the petrifaction of the element that established it, even though he viewed this element totally different than had Freud: Man desires to possess God: he desires a continuity in space and time of possession of God. He . . . wants to see this confirmation stretched out as something that can be continually taken up and handled, a continuum unbroken in space and time. . . . Thus God becomes an object of faith. At first faith, set in time, completes the acts of relation; but gradually it replaces them. . . . Further, man’s thirst for continuity is unsatisfied by the lifestructure of pure relations, the “solitude” of the I before the Thou. . . . He longs for extension in space, for the representation in which the community of the faithful is united with its God. Thus God becomes the object of a cult. The cult, too, completes at first the acts of relation, in adjusting in a spatial context of great formative power the living prayer, the immediate saying of the Thou, and in linking it with the life of the senses. It, too, gradually replaces the acts of relation, when the personal prayer is no longer supported, but displaced, by the communal prayer, and when the act of the being, since it admits no rule, is replaced by ordered devotional exercises.31

Faith and rite originate in the human desire for more than the moments of presence revealed in the encounter between I and Thou. Rite seeks to expand and ground the moments of encounter that emerge, first and foremost, from individual prayer, which is made possible due to the exchange

30 Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans. R. G. Smith (New York: Scribner’s, 2000), 106. 31 Ibid., 107–8.

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of the divine as presence for human belief in God as a personality.32 Clearly, then, this belief, as necessary as it may be, is of a reductive nature, while ritual expansion, and especially ritual institutionalization, eventually become a substitute for the true encounter with the presence. What, therefore, is the factor that arouses the unease of the religious individual who rebels against routine ritual activity and demands conscious intentionality and personal meaning in the ritual act?

The Reasons for Religious Discomfort with Ritual Activity Freud described the person suffering from neurotic obsessive behavior as held captive by prohibitions and subject to guilt feelings about which he understand, nothing. Such feelings have their roots in prior psychological processes and they arise anew every time triggers prompt anxiety that is caused by the anticipation of disaster. Consequently, a personal rite begins as a defensive action or as a sort of cautionary measure. Freud compared this to religious rites: “the pious observances (such as prayers, invocations, etc.) with which such people preface every daily act, and in especial every unusual undertaking, seem to have the value of defensive or protective measures.”33 Such activity is imposed on man by guilt of which he is not aware. For Freud, the awareness of guilt always originates in the repression of the awakening of the sexual instinct at man’s core.34 Even if we assume the existence of diverse additional factors capable of arousing guilt, since these are unconscious and repressed, such behavior is to be regarded as conduct forced on a person from without. According to Aristotle, “an act is compulsory when its origin is from without, being of such a nature that the agent, who is really passive, contributes nothing to it: for example, when he is carried somewhere by stress of weather, or by people who have him in their power.”35 He distinguished between things done willingly and unwillingly, with the latter including matters performed under compulsion, by external forces, or out of a lack of 32 Ibid., 108. Heiler’s understanding that prayer is the heart and center of every religion, corresponds to Buber’s conception; see Heiler, Prayer, xv. 33 Freud, “Obsessive Actions,” 123–24. 34 Ibid., 124 35 Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics 3:1:3 (for English translation, see Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, trans. H. Rackham, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 268 [London: Heinemann, 1945], 116–17); see his further discussion of doubtful situations.



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knowledge, whether positive or negative. Aristotle’s discussion of compulsion discloses his thought regarding actions taken willingly and intentionally: “An involuntary action being one done under compulsion or through ignorance, a voluntary act would seem to be an act of which the origin lies in the agent, who knows the particular circumstances in which he is acting.”36 Aristotle defines a voluntary act as one that originates in man’s inner self, or as he puts it, “when the origin of an action is in oneself,”37 in contrast with actions that are external or unwitting. Aristotle’s distinction between an external and internal act is evident in the writings of the Stoics, who were inclined to differentiate between outer and inner experience.38 From an Aristotelian perspective, the human instinct for activity, understanding, and awareness is what motivates individuals not to be satisfied by automatic ritual activity forced upon them by factors of which they are unaware, as Freud and Lorenz demonstrated; and by pressures exerted by society, which owes its cohesiveness to the existence of rituals, as Emile Durkheim showed.39 According to Buber, the revolt against the fossilization of religious ritual is a rebellion of the spirit, which abhors the I-It relation that dominates religious life and which longs for the renewal of I-Thou relations. The question of personal intent that accompanies religious ritual behavior is bound up with the individual’s not being satisfied with knowledge of the rules of the religious act in question or, at best, also the knowledge of the mythical reason for the ritual. It has its source in an aspiration to transform ritual behavior, which is performed as a kind of automatic, external act, into conduct that is done out of a profound inner awareness. Imparting deep inner significance to an external ritual act need not develop from an actual ceremony. At times a social external ritual can be infused with inner meaning that comes from an intellectual cultural system totally 36 Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics 3:1:20 (trans.: 73:126–27). The conception set forth there is extremely broad, and includes among voluntary and intentional actions angers, desires, and the injustices man causes to others. 37 Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics 3:1:6 (trans.: 73:118–19). 38 See, for example, Epictetus, Discourses 1:1–2 (for English translation, see Epictetus, The Discourses as Reported by Arrian, trans. W. A. Oldfather, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 268 [London: Heinemann, 1979], 6–25). “I must go into exile: does anyone, then, keep me from going with a smile and cheerful and serene?” (1:1; trans.: 131:12–13). 39 Durkheim, Elementary Forms, 47; see above, in the introduction, n. 2. See also EvansPritchard, Religion, 62–63.

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unconnected to a specific ritual. An outstanding example of such an act is the Japanese tea ceremony, which is derived from a ceremony brought to Japan from China. This was originally a social ceremony indicating the exalted status of the participants, but in the fifteenth century it became a spiritual exercise focused on the proper accompanying inner intent, in accordance with the teachings of the Japanese Zen Buddhist masters.40 Sacred texts in various cultures attest that the ancients were already concerned with the question of intent. Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita: He who offers to me in devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, water, I accept that devotional offering of a pious self. Make what you do, eat, offer in sacrifice, give in charity, and undergo as austerity, an offering to me, Son-of-Kunti.41

The divine spirit in which everything dwells is the purpose of religious activity. The fitting sacrifice is not distinguished by outer action, but by the inner intent of the one offering it. Performing the act with devotion, for the sake of the blessed divinity, is the required intent; and it can accompany both an official rite, the offering of sacrifices and charity, and any everyday activity dedicated as a sacrifice to the divine spirit.

Intent in Philosophy and in Religion Twentieth-century philosophical discussions of the concept of intent, which mainly elaborated on Wittgenstein’s examinations of this term as they were formulated in his Philosophical Investigations, freed intent from inwardness.42 “What is the natural expression of an intention?—Look at a cat when

40 See Paul Varley and Kumakura Isao (eds.), Tea in Japan: Essays on the History of Chanoyu (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989); Soshitsu Sen, Tea Life, Tea Mind (New York: Uraseknke Foundation [by] Weatherhill, 1979); Patricia Jane Graham, Tea of the Sages: The Art of Sencha (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1998); Tanaka Sen’o, The Tea Ceremony (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1998). 41 Bhagavad Gita, 9:26–27 (for English translation, see Bhagavad Gita, trans. Richard Gotshalk [Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1985], 36–37). 42 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, para. 611–693 (for English translation, see Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe [Oxford: Blackwell, 1988], 159–72). See also para. 588–592 (trans.: Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 154–55). See Bruce Aune, “Intention,” in Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 4, ed. Paul Edwards (New York: Macmillan, 1972), 198–200.



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it stalks a bird; or a beast when it wants to escape.”43 Wittgenstein seemingly negated innerness: “An ‘inner process’ stands in need of outward criteria.”44 Wittgenstein continues by explaining that he does not mean to negate the link between inner intent and the outer world. Rather, he argues that this connection is not effected by means of any spiritual mechanism that joins the inner and the outer.45 Wittgenstein was especially interested in refuting metaphysical explanations by revealing linguistic structures and the ways of using an expression in a given language-game.46 He aimed to strip human language of the metaphysical dross that offered no real solutions to philosophical problems.47 A deeper investigation of “depth grammar,” as opposed to “surface grammar,” in Wittgenstein’s terminology, shows that his philosophical psychology denies the importance of turning inward if we wish to explore the nature of desires and intents.48 Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language teaches that the meaning of desires and intents is determined by the specific manner in which these expressions are used. The degree of their veracity and nature is examined by introspective contemplation.49 His successors, as well, spoke of the inner focus of the discussion of intent. Anscombe calls the reasons that determine the domain of terms such as 43 Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, para. 647 (trans.: Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 165). See Gertrude Eizabeth Margaret Anscombe’s comment on this paragraph: Anscombe, Intention (Oxford: Blackwell, 1976), 5. 44 Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, para. 580 (trans.: Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 153). 45 Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, para. 689 (trans.: Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 171). 46 See Norman Malcolm, “Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations,” The Philosophical Review 63, no. 4 (October 1954): 530–59, esp. 538 ff.; Rudolf Carnap, “The Rejection of Metaphysics,” in Carnap, Philosophy and Logical Syntax (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1935), 9–38. 47 “My aim is to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense” (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, para. 464 [trans.: Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 133]). 48 “‘I meant this by that word’ is a statement which is differently used from one about an affection of the mind. On the other hand: ‘When you were swearing just now, did you really mean it?’ This is perhaps as much as to say: ‘Were you really angry?’—And the answer may be given as a result of introspection and is often some such thing as: ‘I didn’t mean it very seriously’, ‘I meant it half jokingly’ and so on. There are differences of degree here” (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, paras. 676–677 [trans.: Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 170]). 49 “It makes sense to ask: ‘Do I really love her, or am I only pretending to myself?’ and the process of introspection is the calling up of memories; of imagined possible situations, and of the feelings that one would have if . . . [!]” (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, para. 587 [trans.: Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 154]).

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volition or intentionality “mental causes” (regarding both actions), as well as feelings and thoughts.50 The dividing line that Wittgenstein drew between the psychological and the logical, work by the founders of the new philosophy of logic, Frege and Husserl, should not be blurred. Nonetheless, the logical-linguistic treatment of intent patently does not negate its being active in the realm of the human psyche, and at times its examination requires introspective contemplation in order to learn of its existence and nature.51 ***

Religious life is replete with conventional ritual acts. The detachment of believers from conscious meaning in general and, especially, the meaning ascribed it by a specific religious tradition creates a conflict that arises from performance by rote. The religious person’s aim of reconnecting his outer action with the intentionality that should accompany it is an inward one. An objective of this type expresses a desire for unification between the outer act and the individual’s inner world, and is not necessarily dependent on preferring the inner to the outer. Emphasizing the intent in ritual acts does not require diminishing outer acts.52 Deepening personal intent, however, often results in opposition to traditional ritual acts, a lack of satisfaction with merely deepening their accompanying intents, as a sort of protest against the schematic nature of orthodox rites, and their replacement by more inward activity by the believer.

50 Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe, “Intention,” in The Collected Philosophical Papers of G. E. M. Anscombe, vol. 2: Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Mind (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1981), 75–77. See also Anscombe, Intention, para. 11, 17–18; Stuart Hampshire, Thought and Action (London: Chatto and Windus, 1959), 92, 97. 51 For additional philosophical inquiries on this issue, see Jack W. Meiland, The Nature of Intention (London: Methuen, 1970); John R. Searle, Intentionality: An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983). For the philosophical disagreements on the nature of human activity, the ways of describing it, and the nature of human thought, see Richard J. Bernstein, Praxis and Action: Philosophies of Human Activity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971), 230–304; Georg Henrick von Wright, Explanation and Understanding (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971). 52 This assertion could be supported by Wittgenstein’s statements (above).



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Ritual Interiorization in World Religions “Ritual interiorization” refers to the replacement of rites, such as the offering of sacrifices and libations, which are performed by rote within the tradition, by ones perceived by those performing them as more sublime. The preference for new rites generally results from the specific intent or exceptional inner efforts that accompany their performance and that impart to them their lofty worth. Mircea Eliade coined the term “ritual interiorization” in his book Yoga to describe physiological actions such as breathing and fasting, which substitute for the ritual objects of sacrifices and libations. Physical mortifications serve as an inner sacrifice that replaces an orthodox sacrifice.53 In Vedic myth, the offering of sacrifices in accordance with tradition’s law ensures that the sacrificer’s desires will be realized. This punctiliousness could be completely behavioral, and requires no inner intentionality beyond precision regarding the rules of the ceremony. In Eliade’s example of ritual interiorization, the yoga breathing exercise pranayama, which consists mainly of concentrating one’s attention on breathing, is compared with one of the best-known Vedic sacrifices, Agnihotra, the fire service that each family head is required to perform twice daily, before sunrise and after sunset: Next, the control of Pratardana, which is also called “the daily fire sacrifice offered internally”. Clearly, a man is unable to breathe while he is speaking. So, during that time he offers his breath in his speech. A man is, likewise, unable to speak while he is breathing. So, during that time he offers his speech in his breath. One offers two endless and deathless offerings without interruption, whether one is awake or asleep. All other offerings, on the other hand, are limited, for they consist of ritual activities. It is because they knew this that people in ancient times refrained from offering the daily fire sacrifice.54

In the Upanishads, the individual’s breath is compared to the priest’s offering of sacrifices. Constant awareness of breathing in and out is 53 Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, trans. William R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 111–14. For the sake of comparison, see on the fast in ancient and medieval Christianity in Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), esp. 33–47, 208–18. 54 Kausitaki Upaniṣad II, 5. For English translation see Upaniṣads, trans. Patrick Olivelle (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 208.

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likened to the Brahmins’ singing of paeans while offering sacrifices. The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad tells of Janaka, king of Videha, who decided to give precious gifts to the Brahmin priests in an impressive sacrifice ceremony in the course of which he would determine who was the most learned priest. The profound erudition of Yajnavalkya was acknowledged after he compared the hymns with breathing.55 The seclusive authors of the Upanishads (middle of the first millennium BCE) preferred personal methods of self-control to the traditional ritual way of life. The emergence of seclusiveness in India was a protest against the collective nature of rites. In place of fixed, unbending public rituals, an ascetic would formulate a personal path of physical mortifications and purification of the soul.56 In nascent Christianity, the Letter to the Hebrews depicts a different type of ritual interiorization.57 As Flusser put it: “Jesus’ sacrifice not only introduces an element of atonement, according to the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, it also provides man with the possibility of the rectification of the spirit, conscience, something of which previous sacrifices were incapable.”58 Paul’s declaration reflects the culmination of his body-soul dichotomy—a dichotomy that led him to identify the commandments of the Torah as physical mandates59 that are contrary to the spirituality of the belief in Jesus and his atoning crucifixion through which the believer is redeemed. Christian faith, at least originally, aimed to replace the rites of the Torah with what it perceived as spiritual inwardness. Flusser argued that this Christian thought originated in a Dead Sea sect. Flusser found the direct influence of the sect—whose members regarded themselves as a holy 55 See Brhasaranyaka Upaniṣad III, 1. For English translation see Upaniṣads, 34–36. 56 Biderman, Crossing Horizons, 140–41. 57 “By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the sanctuary has not yet been disclosed as long as the first tent is still standing. This is a symbol of the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various baptisms, regulations for the body imposed until the time comes to set things right. But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (ESV, Hebrews 9:8–12). 58 David Flusser, Jewish Sources in Early Christianity [Heb] (Tel Aviv: Sifriat Hapoalim, 1979), 367–68. 59 “For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law . . . making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (ESV Romans 7:22–23).



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congregation that constituted a sort of sanctuary of the spirit—in Peter’s phrase “spiritual sacrifices.”60 We have shown that one of the NT passages which express this concept is directly dependent on a Sectarian prototype; we have reason to believe that the concept itself came from Sectarian circles. This view, that the Church is a spiritual Temple, did not only mean for the Christians that the Church was a united body which contained holiness, but also that, being a spiritual temple, it was superior to the material Temple of the Jews.61

The medieval Christian mystical tradition contains many expressions of spiritual dissatisfaction with outer rites. Davis cites, for example, the writings of the German mystic Johannes Tauler (1300?-1361), who criticized religious asceticism that is not performed with the proper intent: In whatever they do, Pharisaic people think only of themselves. This is true also of some religious who think that they stand well with God. But if we examine their work rightly, we see that they love only themselves and think in essence only of themselves, whether it is a question of prayer or of anything else, but they are not aware of this . . . they pray and beat their breasts, contemplate the fine pictures in the churches, drop to their knees and run from one church to the next in the town. And for God it is all in vain, for their hearts and minds are not turned to him. They are turned rather to creatures, for it is there that they find their pleasure, their wellbeing or comfort, their desire or profit. . . . That is not the meaning of the commandment that we should love God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind. And that is why God takes no notice of any of this.62

We can learn of ritual interiorization in Islam from, for instance, Avicenna’s Treatise on the Essence of Prayer.63 Pines showed that Avicenna set spiritual prayer in one’s thought against religiously mandated manifest prayer. The nature of this spiritual prayer will be discussed below; however, it can already be argued that, as regards Muslim prayer and ritual practices, 60 See I Peter 2:5. 61 David Flusser, Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988), 236. See below, on ritual interiorization in the Judean Desert sect. 62 Johannes Tauler, Predigten, ed. Georg Hofmann (Einsiedeln: Johannes, 1979), 397, cited by Oliver Davies, God Within: The Mystical Tradition of Northern Europe (New York: Paulist Press, 1988), 91. 63 Qsalah es-Salah, published in the collection Jami al-Badai, ed. Muhi al-Din Sabri Kurdi (Cairo, 1917), 2–14; see Pines, Studies, 144.

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that Avicenna patently called for ritual interiorization. Goldziher described the Sufi schools that were exacting in the observance of Islam’s commandments and formal laws, and that sought the perfection of religious life in the inner intensification of the formal commandments. Goldziher maintains that al-Ghazali’s major interest was in the interiorization of Islamic law and its spiritual revival, which, in his estimation, is the aim of al-Ghazali’s magnum opus Ihya Ulum al-Din (The Revival of Religious Science).64 The principle of muhasaba [self-examination of the soul], which is at the essence of Sufism, is bound up with the interiorization of ritual life. Sara Sviri explains in her discussion of muhasaba that scholars noted that, for the Sufi, the worship of God was not limited to the observance of the commandments, but entailed a meticulous examination of the soul’s motives in its actions, on the one hand, and inner intent, on the other. Even regarding a basic obligation such as the giving of charity, if self-examination reveals an improper ulterior motive, its performance should rightly be set aside. Muhasaba, therefore, is an important component of inner worship, the heart’s work, that developed in Sufism from its very inception, and which stands opposed to mechanical observance. The development of this practice is connected with al-Muhasibi, whose very name indicates that he was “the master of muhasaba.” I [the student] said, What is muhasaba? He said: To contemplate and to precisely examine the difference between what is hateful to God and what He loves. Muhasaba has two aspects: the one prior to the act, and that following it. Hasin [al-Basri] said: When a person wishes to fulfill the commandment of charity, he gazes [upon himself] and examines [himself], and [only] if [he finds] that the commandment is for the sake of God, may He be exalted, he is to fulfill it. Hasan further said: May God’s mercies be with the one who waits before he does what he desires to do. Let not the servant of God perform an action before he examines the matter in his thought: if he does this for himself, he should leave it [i.e., not do it]; and if out of his obligation to do so—then he should wait.

64 Ignaz Goldziher, Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law, trans. Andras and Ruth Hamori (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), 158–62.



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Hasan further said: May God’s mercies be with the early ones, who in their wisdom knew that there is no act that is not preceded by thought; thus, too, the believer, [before he acts,] he waits. The second type of muhasaba is the muhasaba after the act, that is, after the act that has already been done. God commanded that after the act, people are to examine their prior acts, regret their sins, and return to their Master in repentance.65

The most striking outer expression in Sufism of the interiorization of the Muslim rite, and especially of prayer, is the principle of dhikr—recollection. By placing remembrance of Allah in the center of religious activity, Sufi dhikr lessens the worth of other religious actions that now become secondary.66 Schimmel pointed out the distinction between the degrees of dhikr—a distinction based on differentiating between recollection with one’s tongue and inner remembrance in the heart.67 This hierarchy stresses the role of dhikr in the spiritualization of formal Islamic prayer, from removal of the time limitations of the set prayers to total inner immersion.68 The Sufi interiorization of Muslim rite obviously ensues from placing conceptual and meditative interiorizations (analyzed below) at the center of the believer’s life. Nonetheless, the importance of the discussion of these interiorizations is due to the fact that certain Sufi schools preferred to be freed from all ritual obligation.69 This example illustrates the nature of the connection between ritual interiorization and other interiorizations, which could lead to either ritual interiorization or the negation of all ritual. Ritual interiorization usually entails outer change in traditional rites that result from dissatisfaction with the character of said ritual tradition; but the intensification of the intent accompanying rites does not necessarily give rise to such changes. These are two different aspects of the same type of amplification of the individual’s inner life. These rituals, by their very nature, are based on outer behaviors that tend towards the theatrical and give external expression to inner unconscious motives and the existential needs of the collective to which the individual belongs. Anthropologists 65 Harith ibn Asad al-Muhasibi, Kitab al-Ri’āaya Lihukūuk Allāah, ed. Margaret Smith (London: Luzac & co., 1940), 10–15. 66 Sara Sviri, Sufis: An Anthology [Heb] (Tel Aviv: Mapa, 2008), 110–11. 67 Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975), 167–86, esp. 167–72. 68 For an additional discussion of Sufi prayer, see below, chapter three, 229–30. 69 Goldziher, Introduction, 147–48.

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and researchers on religion are divided in their explanations of the connection between technical magical thought and rational religious thinking; nonetheless, interiorization processes that focus on the intent that accompanies or refashions ritual activity are clearly nourished by the rationalization processes that called into question the myths underlying traditional rites, which they replaced by more rational symbolic explanations.70 These processes significantly contributed to the creation of interiorization processes and strengthened the individualistic element in religious life, since they diverted attention from social ceremonial activity to the inner arena of each participant in a rite. This does not necessarily mean the negation of the communal dimension, since a ceremony performed with personal intent often continues to be conducted within a social context, albeit with a certain weakening of the social dimension in favor of the personal. Deepening the intent accompanying a ritual act and the interiorization of a rite is usually related to rites connected with the individual and his personal life. Profound experiences associated with rites and ceremonies meant to explicitly mark changes or events in social life, such as coronations or rites of passage and initiation, are directly dependent upon the social character of such ceremonies.71 Durkheim showed that a rite that draws members of the sub-tribe closer to one another creates a spirit of social solidarity. The excitement that comes with ceremonial rites generates a feeling of collectivity that, in many instances, is bound up with a weakened sense of individuality. The repetition of ritual activity that renews solidarity therefore moderates the power of individualism.72

70 Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man: An Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1945), 72–108. 71 See above, 61 n. 14. The communitas experience described by Turner as a liminality offering an amalgam of humility and sanctity, homogeneity and fraternity, is not the consequence of human intentionality. Rather, it is the product of a ceremonial situation that, according to Turner, consists mainly of an awareness of the essential human bond without which society is impossible. For a limited time, the participants experience relations closer to the Buber’s I-Thou relationship than to hierarchically structured relations. The ceremony is meant to bring about change in the social positioning of those in its center, but something of the temporary submissiveness and formlessness passes on and moderates the pride of those who attained this new status (Turner, Ritual Process, 94–130). 72 Evans-Pritchard, Religion, 62–63.



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Intent in the Jewish Sources Act and Intent in the Bible Maimonides famously argued in his Guide of the Perplexed that the meaning of many Biblical commandments, and the reasons behind them, can be understood in light of the doctrine of the Sabians, the pagan sect mentioned in the Quran that lived at the time of the emergence of Islam in Harran in northern Iraq, close to the Euphrates River on the border of Syria and Asia Minor. Maimonides identified this sect with the family into which Abraham had been born and named all pagans after this sect.73 According to Maimonides, many of the Torah’s prohibitions are meant to negate pagan rites,74 and he interpreted many Temple laws and practices as alternatives to what was accepted among the Sabians.75 One of the developments of this idea is the argument that ritual practices in the Bible were frequently influenced by those of other religions, whether in the manner of acceptance (with new meanings attached) or on the basis of rejection and negation.76 The new reasons are the Biblical foundation for the inner meaning of the commandments imposed on the people of Israel. It was only in the time of the rabbis that the root khaf-vav-nun was given the meaning of intent, in terms of concentration, thought, and the direction inner attention to a certain matter. The verses in the Torah that already define certain commandments as “signs” and “reminders,” especially those teaching the ideal mindset required of those who fulfill the Torah, indicate the presence of a significant stratum of intentionality in the Bible itself. At Passover, and also with regard to all the other commandments of the Torah that are explicitly said to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt,77 every Israelite is mandated to actively arouse within himself the collective memory of this miraculous founding event of the people of Israel.78 The peoples' escape from Egypt and God’s divine guidance in the wilderness are among the pillars of Judaism. God demonstrated His providence and, consequently, 73 Maimonides, Guide 3:29 (trans.: Moses ben Maimon, The Guide, 514). 74 Ibid., 3:37 (ibid., 540–50). 75 Ibid., 3:45 (ibid., 575–81). 76 Urbach, Sages, 1:59. 77 For example, Exod. 13:9; Lev. 23:42–43. 78 See Talmudic Encyclopedia [Heb], vol. 12, ed. Shlomo Josef Zevin (Jerusalem: Talmudic Encyclopedia Institute, 1967), s.v. “The Remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt,” cols. 209–10.

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He “expects” or “invites” the people to believe and trust in Him. The explicit verses of the Sabbath,79 Passover,80 tzitzit [ritual fringes], and mezuzah81— the sign on the hand and the symbol between the eyes (which the Oral Law understands as the commandment of tefilin)82—are understood to attest to the demands of consciousness made in order to impart meaning to specific rituals.83 Whenever the rite of the Paschal sacrifice is conducted or the Sabbath is observed without any inner identification with their contents,84 and without any conscious intent for the significance that the Torah imparted to the holiday and its attendant rite, we may presume the creation of a gap between the act and the inner intent that should accompany it. In addition to the principle of the sign and reminder as expressing a demand in the Torah for such intent, the verses in Deuteronomy that demand fear, love, and fidelity in the relationship between man and God85 require inner intentionality on both the emotional and epistemological levels, whether associated with specific ritual acts or not. Yochanan Muffs’s philological analysis of the wording of text about love and joy appearing in Deuteronomy and Chronicles, and afterwards in Ben Sira and in the writings of Philo, in the sermons of Paul, and in the early midrash and piyyut [liturgical poetry], revealed that they share the identical meaning with their Akkadian and Aramaic parallels used in legal documents. In these legal contexts they express the defined legal idea of free will, without compulsion, that is, they denote that the gift was granted or the property was sold of one’s free will.86 In Muff ’s words: . . . the religious covenant, exactly like its societal analogue, was created, sustained, and renewed by a continuous exchange of gifts and favors—the tangible signs of the mutual good will and loyalty of the parties . . . the gifts—in religious language, “the blessings”—of life and wealth, healing and 79 80 81 82 83

Exod. 31:13, 17. Exod. 12:14. Num. 15:37–41; Deut. 6:9. Exod. 13:9, 16; Deut. 6:8. The intent is to demands on the consciousness, and not to symbolic meanings. It includes an awareness that the arguments concerning the sign and the remembrance in the Torah are indications and not representative symbols. See Yosef Schaechter, Reflections on Dilemmas of Our Time: Essays [Heb] (Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1970), 61–66; Brevard S. Childs, Memory and Tradition in Israel (London: SCM Press, 1962). 84 For example, Amos 8:5. 85 Deut. 6:5; 10:12; 11:1, 13, 16, 18, 22; 13:4; 19:9; 30:6, 16, 20. 86 Muffs, Love & Joy, 122–24.



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assistance bestowed by divinity on everyman; the authority bestowed as a gift to kings, especially in Mesopotamia; and in Israel—at least according to the midrash—the gifts of the land, the Torah, and the Sabbath, granted to the people for all time. In return for these blessings, man reciprocated with his contributions to the temple and with the payment of his vows: in Mesopotamia with his food-offerings to the gods, and in Israel with his tithes, first-fruits and sacrifices, and later, with his prayers. And even if his sacrifices were formally considered as divine demands rather than spontaneous donations, nevertheless—at least according to a rabbinic tradition—if offered with a full heart and with enthusiasm, they were accepted as free-will offerings. Unlike the sale of an object, where the payment of a consideration effected the transfer of ownership, the validity of ancient Near Eastern donations was dependent to a great degree on the intention and good will of the donor.87

According to this explanation, the first test of religious intent in the Bible is that of the good will at the basis of giving to God. Another aspect of awareness of intent in the laws of the Torah can be found in the principle of shegagah [inadvertent act]. The shegagah sacrifices point to a clear distinction regarding a person’s motives. Sins that originate in doing evil and in conscious negation and denigration of the Torah’s commandments are distinguished from sins resulting from a lack of intent or knowledge.88 This distinction is fully expressed in the laws for capital crimes in the Torah.89 Can it be argued, despite the above, that the relatively small number of Biblical verses directly relating to inner intent demonstrates a Biblical inclination to exteriorization? I assume that this possibility is not indicative of the degree of Biblical interiorization or exteriorization, but of the lack of delineation typical of the world of Biblical thought between inner and outer—in other words, their entwinement. Deuteronomy’s “If, then, you obey” (Deut. 11:13–14) finely illustrates this characteristic incorporation of the inner and the outer.90 The demand for maximal love of God, which is the climax of Biblical interiorization, is reflected in completely outer 87 88 89 90

Ibid., 165–66. See Lev. 5:1–19; Num. 15:22–31. Exod. 21:13; and also the laws of the cities of refuge in Num. 35:11–28. See Henri Frankfort et al., Before Philosophy: The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: An Essay on Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1954); Benjamin Uffenheimer, “Myth and Reality in Ancient Israel,” in The Origins and

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reward and punishment. Likewise, Deuteronomy links the idea of repentance, which Muffs interprets as an expression of the interiorization of the Biblical conception of sin,91 with external reward: “and you return to the Lord your God . . . then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and take you back in love. He will bring you together again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you” (Deut. 30:2–3). At first glance, the Bible contains only a single express denunciation of the worship of God performed solely out of habit and therefore lacking inner intent: “Because that people has approached [Me] with its mouth and honored Me with its lips, but has kept its heart far from Me, and its worship of Me has been a commandment of men, learned by rote” (Isa. 29:13). Isaiah indicates that something is not right in the prayers recited by those ascending to the Temple, and possibly also in those recited by the priests and the Levites. This teaches that Isaiah meant that their fear of God was not worthy. Fixed prayer formulations already existed in the Biblical period,92 and therefore, since Isaiah does not deny that the people feared God in its heart (for he says “its worship [yiratam, lit., fear] of Me”), we may reasonably assume that his criticism is directed against a type of fear of God that he believed did not suit the content and purpose of the prayers. What was the original meaning of the phrase “a commandment of men, learned by rote” included in Isaiah’s rebuke? Rashi read the phrase in a specific ritual content: “And its worship of Me has not been wholehearted, but by the command of those who teach them, they show themselves to be submissive before Him, in order to beguile Him with your mouth.” Rashi apparently based his understanding on Ps. 78:36–37: “Yet they beguiled Him with their speech [be-fihem, lit., with their mouths], lied to Him with their words; their hearts were inconstant toward Him.”93 Verse 8 in the same chapter similarly speaks of the people of Israel’s denial that God was merciful when they were brought forth from Egypt and journeyed in the wilderness. The primary meaning of lack of faith is a lack of trust in God’s ability to care for His people and provide for their every want. This lack of belief is reflected by the people’s neglect of their faith and observance Diversity of Axial Ages Civilizations, ed. S. N. Eisenstadt (Albany: SUNY Press, 1986), 23–32. 91 See above, introduction, 16 n. 30. 92 Moshe Greenberg, On the Bible and Judaism [Heb] (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1985), 179 n. 3 and 214–17. 93 See ibid., 197–98.



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of the Torah. Instead, they were more concerned with their physical needs. “Nonetheless, they went on sinning and had no faith in His wonders. He made their days end in futility, their years in sudden death” (Ps. 78:32–33). According to this interpretation, it cannot be argued that ritual activity is false because it is done out of obligation and habit without any true inner intent. The “beguiling” of God in prayer, which is based in the worshipers’ intent, ensues from a lack of faith and focus on ensuring their physical needs. Instead of expressing faith and trust in God, prayer becomes a request for fulfilling needs by “beguiling” God with words. Requesting the fulfillment of needs is posited here as contrary to faith in God’s wonders and miracles, and contrary to trusting in God to choose to help the people.94 The people fear God, but their fear is unworthy. This is not awe at the wonders of the Lord that leads to the observance of His commandments, but the peoples’ fear for its physical existence—and Rashi defines this as fear of God that is not wholehearted.95 For Buber, the leading Biblical expression of the nature of proper intent in the act of sacrificing appears in the story of Cain, and especially in the episode about the Binding of Isaac. God demands of Abraham the cruel sacrifice of his son, which also means the cancellation of His promise to Abraham. But God wants the intent and not the actual act. For the act itself, God sends the ram to Abraham—an animal sacrifice. The proper intent in the offering of a sacrifice is that the one offering it is prepared to give everything to God, in contrast to the person who heaps up sacrifices 94 Gruenwald noted that Ps. 78, and similarly Pss. 105 and 136, based on the narrative of the Exodus and the wanderings in the wilderness, make no mention of the Revelation at Sinai (Ithamar Gruenwald, “Myth in the Reality of Epistemology: History and Research” [Heb], Jewish Studies 38 [1998]: 207–208). This supports my argument concerning the nature of the belief in this Psalm. This belief is not in the Giving of the Torah, but in God’s providence and compassion, within the context of which He also transmits the commandments to His people. 95 The Hebrew expression: “One [thing] in the mouth, and another [thing] in the heart,” meaning something false, has its source in a late Talmudic interpretation: “R. Jose son of R. Judah said: What is taught by the verse [Lev. 19:36] ‘an honest hin’? Is not hin included in ‘an honest ephah’ [preceding this in the same verse; the ephah is a dry measure, and the hin, a liquid measure]? Rather, this is to teach you that your ‘yes’ [hen] should be just, and your ‘no’ should be just. Abbaye said: This means that one must not speak one thing with the mouth and another with the heart” (BT Bava Metzia 49a; Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hil. De‘ot 2:6). The Biblical expression mitzvat anashim melumadah (Isa. 29:13, lit. “a commandment of men, learned by rote”) is used, in the world of the rabbis, to describe ritual activity that is defined as false, because the outer act has been separated from the inner intent. According to Ps. 97, supplication for one’s need is invalid behavior; while the rabbis find nothing wrong with such a request, if sincere.

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without proper intent.96 This analysis of the Binding narrative emphasizes the book of Genesis’s displeasure with outer, unconscious, technical, or utilitarian offerings of sacrifices that are not accompanied by an individual’s willingness to offer his soul to God, to be ready for any concession to His will. As mentioned, the Upanishads compare the sacrifice to breath, and the meaning of the sacrifice’s interiorization is the awareness that every physical breath must be as a sacrifice to God, that is, dedicated to Him. According to the Binding narrative, the one offering the sacrifice must have an inner intent of willingness to offer even his own soul, that is, a willingness in his inner being to dedicate his life to God, while not actually renouncing outer life. “God put Abraham to the test” (Gen. 22:1)—the test of intent. God does not desire the child’s death, which would mean cutting off Abraham’s progeny, since He told him: “Do not raise your hand against the boy” (Gen. 22:12), but rather, Abraham’s inner intent; that is, not that he actually forego the promise of descendants and the inheritance of the land, rather, that in his innermost self he is willing to direct all his actions to God without intending to receive reward. This conception that the crux of the sacrifice lies in the proper accompanying intent is based on the Biblical belief in God’s knowledge and interest in the secrets of man’s heart. This will be discussed below, in the chapter on ideational interiorization in the Bible.

The Concept of Intent and Its Development in Rabbinic Literature: Thought and Intent Regarding Consecrated Items and Civil Law The root khaf-vav-nun, meaning directing one’s focus to a precise point, first appears in Tannaitic literature.97 The question of the relationship between 96 See Martin Buber, “Cain,” in Buber, Darko shel Mikra [Heb] (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1964), 60–64; idem, Torah of the Prophets [Heb] (Tel Aviv: Bialik Institute, 1942), 86–87; Ron Margolin, “Abraham the Seer—Martin Buber’s Interpretation of Abraham and the Hasidic Origins of His Interpretations” [Heb], in The Faith of Abraham, ed. Moshe Halamish, Hannah Kasher, and Yochanan Silman (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University, 2002), 295–309. Compare this conception with: “And quite possibly the primary purpose of the Akedah story may have been only this: to attach to a real pillar of the folk and a revered reputation the new norm—abolish human sacrifice, substitute animals instead” (Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial: On the Legends and Lore of the Command to Abraham to Offer Isaac as a Sacrifice, trans. Judah Goldin [New York: Pantheon, 1967], 64; see esp. 497–505). The contrasting view, which regards the Binding as an expression of events in God’s inner world, is presented by Yehuda Liebes, “The Love of God and His Jealousy” [Heb], Dimui 7 (1994): 30–36. 97 See Ben-Yehuda, Dictionary, 2294–2297, s.v. kon.



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act and thought was extensively discussed in the world of the Tannaim and Amoraim, by means of this root, as well as other linguistic expressions. In two halakhic realms, it is universally acknowledged that thought invalidates the ritual, just like outer acts: idolatry and sacrifices; I will expand on the latter.98 The fundamental principle regarding consecrated items is that an intent on the part of the sacrificer that diverges from the laws of sacrifices—even if such an intent was not executed—is liable to invalidate the sacrifice, or even turn it into pigul [an “abomination”]. The rabbis established exacting rules and laws regarding intent and gave them a central place in the assemblage of protocols governing consecrated items.99 “All animal-offerings that have been slaughtered under the name of some other offering remain valid (but they do not count to their owner in fulfillment of his obligation) excepting a Passover-offering and a Sin-offering.”100 “The Torah deemed thought regarding animal-offerings as more severe than their acts.”101 An instructive example of the manner in which the rabbis placed the dimension of the sacrificer’s intent at the heart of the laws of sacrifices, diverging from the literal meaning of the verse, is M Zevahim 4:6: An offering must be slaughtered while mindful of six things: of the offerings, of the offerer, of God, of the altar-fires, of the odour, and of the sweet savour; and if it is a Sin-offering or a Guilt-offering, also of the sin. R. Jose said: Even if a man was not mindful in his heart of one of these things, the offering is valid; for it is a condition enjoined by the court that the intention [which invalidates an offering] is dependent on him alone that performs the act.102 98 See the commentary of Keli Yakar to Lev. 19:4. The well-known dictum taught by R. Judah in the name of Rav: “[performance] not for its own sake leads to [performance] for its own sake” (see BT Sanhedrin 105b; Horayot 10b; Pesahim 50b; Arakhin 16b; Sotah 22b; 47a) highlights the exceptional importance of thought regarding sacrifices and idolatry in comparison with other commandments. 99 See Urbach, Halakhah, 191–93; Naftali Goldstein, “Worship in the Temple in Jerusalem: Rabbinic Interpretation and Influence” [Heb], PhD diss. (Hebrew University, 1977), 1–53. Goldstein asserted that “in the early period, extreme stringency was practiced in this regard; afterwards—apparently close to the destruction of the Temple—some leniencies were introduced. This apparently was due to the increase in population that led to an according increase in sacrifices” (5). See Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, The Human Will in Judaism: The Mishna’s Philosophy of Intention (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986), 145–80. 100 M Zevahim 1:1. For English translation, see The Mishnah, trans. Herbert Danby (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933–), 469. 101 T Menahot 5:6. 102 For English translation, see Danby, The Mishnah, 473.

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The verse “and the priest shall turn the whole into smoke on the altar as a burnt offering, an offering of pleasing odor to the Lord” (Lev. 1:9) was not interpreted literally by the Tannaim. Rather, they read the verse as referring to the offerer: he must want to please the Lord, and is commanded to offer the animal sacrifice as a sin-offering, a guilt-offering, or the like. This change means that the act of sacrifice is not cardinal, unlike the accompanying thought and intent of the individual bringing the sacrifice—and there is biblical support: “R. Eliezer ben Jacob says: ‘And to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul’ [Deut. 11:13]—this is a warning to the priests not to be of two minds when serving (in the Temple).”103 The rabbis employed a nonliteral exposition of Biblical verses to derive the law that thought alone (without action) suffices to invalidate the sacrifice.104 This singular phenomenon that for sacrifices thought invalidates as much as actions ensued from the rabbinic conception that the quintessence of sacrifice lies in one’s inner intent, and not in the act of sacrificing. For the rabbis, the intent to act improperly regarding certain details, even if the act was later conducted properly, transforms the sacrifice from pleasing to invalid.105 Lev. Rabbah says, “Command the Israelite people and say to them: My offering, My food, for My fires” (Num. 28:2) as follows: “What is the meaning of ‘for My fires’? The Holy One, blessed be He, said: If you bring the offering willingly and cheerfully, it will be ‘My offering’; but if under compulsion, it will be [only] for My fires, and will not be for the Name of God.”106 Muffs states that this midrash stresses that even obligatory sacrifices must be offered with the proper intent, that is, willingly and wholeheartedly. A sacrifice that is offered without such intent is merely a fire on an altar.107 It seems that we can hear Buber’s interpretation of sacri103 Sifre on Deuteronomy, Ekev 41, ed. Louis Finkelstein (Berlin, 1939), 88. For English translation, see Sifre: A Tannaitic Commentary on the Book of Deuteronomy, trans. Reuven Hammer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), 85. See also Goldstein, “Worship in the Temple,” 44–46. 104 Of especial interest is the way in which R. Akiva interpreted Lev. 7:18, as referring to pigul in thought. R. Akiva did not understand the verse literally, rather, pigul for him meant what is offensive is in the thought, and not the sacrifice’s consumption on the third day. See Sifre on Leviticus, ed. Louis Finkelstein (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1983–1992), Megillat Tzav 8:1 (and for a more problematic version, see BT Zevahim 29a). See the discussion in Goldstein, “Worship in the Temple,” 27–35. 105 Ibid., “Worship in the Temple,” 52. 106 Lev. Rabbah 27:10. 107 Muffs, Love & Joy, 179–80.



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fice in the Binding narrative in the rabbis’ conception. The latter endorse or invalidate a sacrifice in accordance with the intent of the one offering it. Eilberg-Schwartz devoted his book The Human Will in Judaism to an examination of the concept of intent in the Mishnah.108 He finds two types of the mishnaic preoccupation with the concepts of kavanah [intent] and mahshavah [thought]: one focuses on the question of responsibility for the act, that is, to determine whether or not a person transgressed the laws of the Torah in his specific behavior. The other concentrates on the classification of objects whose standing as valid or invalid, permitted or forbidden, cannot be established in advance on the basis of reasonable human conduct, but only in accordance with the specific intent employed with regard to them.109 In Eilberg-Schwartz’s view, the uniqueness of the Mishnah’s methodology is that it is not solely legal, but that it also brings theological thought to bear. The basis for this methodology is to be found in Biblical beliefs with two elements at their core: one, the parallel drawn between the divine Creation by means of speech and thought and human action that accords with the principle that all that exists began in divine thought; and the other, the belief that God is interested in, and knows what is hidden in, a person’s hear—a belief that is especially pronounced in Deuteronomy and Psalms.110 This notion is evident in verses such as “God would surely search it out, for He knows the secrets of the heart” (Ps. 44:22) and “Because you would not serve the Lord your God in joy and gladness over the abundance of everything” (Deut. 28:47). In civil law, the rabbis find a person liable for the consequences of his actions, such as the payment of compensation for direct damage that one

108 Eilberg-Schwartz, The Human Will in Judaism. Several major studies on this issue preceded Eilberg-Schwartz’s book: Enelow, “Kawwana”; Yitzhak D. Gilat, “Intent and Act in Tannaitic Teaching” [Heb], Bar-Ilan: Annual of Bar-Ilan University. Studies in Judaica and the Humanities 4–5 (1967; decennial volume 1955–1965): 104–16; Robert Goldenberg, “Commandment and Consciousness in Talmudic Thought,” Harvard Theological Review 68, no. 3–4 (1975): 261–71; Michael Higger, “Intention in Talmudic Law,” in Studies in Jewish Jurisprudence, vol. 1, ed. Edward M. Gerschfield, 293–342 (New York: Hermon, 1971); Max Kadushin, Worship and Ethics: A Study in Rabbinic Judaism (New York: Bloch, 1963), 186–93; Jacob Neusner, Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah (Atlanta: Scholar’s Press, 1968), 332–46; Solomon Zeitlin, Studies in the Early History of Judaism, vol. 4: History of Early Talmudic Law (New York: Ktav, 1978). 109 Eilberg-Schwartz, The Human Will in Judaism, 7–9. 110 Ibid., 193.

Ritual Interiorization and Intent for Commandments  •  CHAPTER ONE

person causes another, even if committed unwittingly.111 As the Mishnah states: “Human kind is always an attested danger, whether [the damage is caused] by error or wantonly, whether awake or asleep.”112 Seemingly, therefore, no attention should be paid to the intent. A more careful reading, however, reveals not only that the importance of the intent is maintained, but that its scope is even extended. First, while one must offer basic compensation for unwittingly caused damages, a person is only liable for further damages caused to another, namely, pain, healing, loss of time, and indignity, if they result from willful injury. Furthermore, the civil law principle that “human kind is always an attested danger” is not the result of a devaluation of the importance of intent. Rather, it mainly highlights a person’s responsibility for his actions and his obligation to foresee damages liable to be caused by him, even those without intent (for instance, through negligence). Responsibility in this context means thinking ahead, that is, an expansion of the demand for intent during action.113

Intent and fulfilling Commandments in the World of the Rabbis The rabbis’ discussion of intent in the observance of the commandments must be understood against the backdrop of their general attitude to the issue of intent, which I discussed in the preceding section. The Mishnah 111 Ibid., 13–20. 112 M Bava Kamma 2:6 (trans.: Danby, The Mishnah, 334); and also 1:4. Generally speaking, the Biblical distinction between willful and unwitting sin became more complex in the world of the rabbis. “If a stone was lying in a person’s bosom and he was unaware of it, so that when he arose it fell: for damage due to depreciation he is liable, and for the four things he is exempt; regarding the Sabbath, it is only purposeful work that the Torah forbade; regarding exile [for manslaughter], he is exempt” (BT Bava Kamma 26b). 113 An exception is the obligation imposed by the School of Shammai for thought alone, as emerges from their disagreement with the School of Hillel regarding “putting to use what had been left in one’s keeping” in M Bava Metzia 3:12. Urbach opposed the attempts by researchers of halakhah to base this disagreement on the question of “whether the deed or the intention to perform the deed is the main factor in deciding the law” (Urbach, Halakhah, 190–205). The tendency of the Tannaim, and especially of the School of Hillel, to judge a person for actions and not for intents does not, in itself, attest to any diminishing of the importance of inner intent in their world. Instances in which the Tannaim refrain from obligating a person for his thoughts do not attest to their discounting the question of inner intentionality, they rather limit the legal ability to judge a person for his thoughts. The difficulty of legally obligating a person on the basis of his thoughts and intents is well-known; in moral terms, however, nothing prevents us from disqualifying thoughts of sin, since exemption in human law does not necessarily grant exemption in the eyes of Heaven.



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directly discusses the term kavanat lev [literally, “intent of the heart,” i.e., inner intent], as accompanying ritual acts other than the offering of sacrifices (which it discusses in the context of the thought specifying the sacrifice), in three contexts: the Reading of the Shema (“Hear, O Israel . . .),114 the blowing of the shofar [ram’s horn],115 and the reading of the Megillah (that is, the book of Esther).116 This is different from the mishnah in Tractate Berakhot that declares: “The pious men of old used to wait an hour before they said the Tefillah (that is, the Amidah prayer), that they might direct their heart to God.”117 The expression of “directing one’s heart” in this source means concentrating on God. According to Urbach, the Mishnah’s discussions of the intent of the heart in matters such as the Reading of the Shema, the blowing of the shofar, and the reading of the Megillah, which are applicable to all Jews do not exceed the legalistic character of civil law, consecrated objects, Sabbath observance and the Sabbath limit,118 or the Sabbatical year.119 In all these places, the roots het-shin-vav [relating to “thinking”] and khafvav-nun [relating to “intention”] mean planning, and these discussions are concerned with establishing the halakhic minimum that confirms the fulfillment of the law. That is, did the performer of the commandment act out of conscious planning, with intent, or not; and therefore did or did not fulfill the mandates of the religious law.120 Consequently, the concept kavanah or the phrase kiven libo [directed his heart] in the Mishnah in general, and specifically in the special context of blowing the shofar and reading the Megillah, do not amount to a demand for special focus on the contents of the commandment. Rather, they call for a basic awareness of its fulfillment. Since the continuation of the mishnah that requires kavanat ha-lev in hearing the sound of the shofar is explicitly said in Exod. 17:1 and Num. 2:8 114 M Berakhot 2:1. 115 “So, too, if a man was passing behind a synagogue, or if his house was near to a synagogue, and he heard the sound of the shofar or the reading of the Megillah, if he directed his heart he has fulfilled his obligation, but if he did not he has not fulfilled his obligation” (M Rosh Hashanah 3:7 [trans.: Danby, The Mishnah, 192]; T Rosh Hashanah 3:6). 116 M Megillah 2:2; Eruvin 4:4. 117 M Berakhot 5:1 (trans.: Danby, The Mishnah, 5). 118 M Eruvin 4:4. See also the Talmudic dictum permitting the dragging on the Sabbath of a bed, a chair, or a bench: “R. Simeon says: One may drag a bed, chair, or bench, provided that he does not intend to make a rut” (BT Shabbat 22a; 29a; 46a; Pesahim 21a; Betzah 23b; Menahot 41b; PT Kela’im 1:9). 119 See, for example. M Shevi’it 3:6. 120 On intent as fashioning reality, see below, chapter six, 462–67.

Ritual Interiorization and Intent for Commandments  •  CHAPTER ONE

to signify Israel’s looking upward and subjugating its heart to its Father in Heaven,121 we can argue, unlike Urbach, that the cases of hearing the shofar and the Megillah are exceptions that also require, in addition to the very hearing, additional inner intent: attention to the content that exceeds the listening itself. Urbach argued that the meaning of intent, as attentiveness to the significance of the act, was first developed in Amoraitic sources. It could, however, be argued, based on the above exceptional cases, that this meaning of the notion of intent was already present in the Mishnah.122 The preoccupation of the Amoraim with intent is formulated in the famous question of whether the commandments require intent.123 That is, whether intent must accompany the performance of all the commandments. The response of most of the Amoraim is that the commandments do not require intent in the sense of concentration and deep thought concerning the content of the commandment. The blower of the shofar need have intent only for the blowing, and the listener to the shofar must have intent only to hear.124 The case is different for prayer and the Reading of the Shema; this difference apparently is based on those Tannaitic dicta that assume intent in prayer, in terms of concentration on the prayer’s meaning 121 M Rosh Hashanah 3:7. Yosef Schaechter argues that since the redactor of the Mishnah made sparse use of aggadic material, then the citing of the midrashic aggadah on “Then, whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed” (Exod. 17:11) and “Make a seraph figure and mount it on a standard. And if anyone who is bitten looks at it, he shall recover” (Num. 21:8) is meant to emphasize that the intent of the heart, mentioned earlier regarding the hearing of the shofar outside the synagogue, is to Heaven (Schaechter, Gate to a Philosophical Creed: Essays [Heb] [Jerusalem: Neuman, 1972], 167). Shlomo Naeh argued, in opposition (in a lecture given in 2006 at the Shalom Hartman Institute) that the aggadah stresses that the inner intent of the one hearing the shofar is not identical to the subjugation of the heart to our Father in Heaven depicted in the midrash. He argues for the legal-formalistic coherency of the Mishnah. Its interest in the person who heard the shofar as he passed behind the synagogue is to determine the minimal intent required for a person to fulfill his obligation, as distinct from the person who has the intent not only of fulfilling his minimal obligations, but of forming a substantive bond with God, which requires that he subjugate his heart to his Father in Heaven. Naeh finds it unreasonable that the Mishnah would require deep religious inner intent for a commandment such as reading the Megillah, in contrast with the other commandments. 122 Urbach, Halakhah, 177–79; idem, Sages, 395–97. The discussions by the Amoraim as to whether “the commandments require intent” continue the Tannaitic dicta on “commandment for its own sake” or “not for its own sake” (see above, n. 98) and on the importance of “rejoicing in the performance of a commandment” (BT Berakhot 31a; Shabbat 30b; Pesaḥim 117a). See Urbach, Sages, 1:392–95. 123 See BT Berakhot 13a–b; Eruvin 95b-96a; Pesahim 114b; Rosh Hashanah 28a–29a. 124 See, for example, the opinion of Raba in BT Rosh Hashanah 28b.



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as a necessary condition for the proper performance of prayer.125 Different meanings of this intent are evident in the discussions of the Tannaim and Amoraim.126 The rabbis’ sensitivity to the fulfillment of intent in prayer, in the sense of inner concentration on its contents, is shown in the following dictum: One who recites the Tefillah so that it can be heard is of the little of faith. R. Huna said: This was meant to apply only if a person is capable of directing his heart when speaking in a whisper, but if he is not capable of directing his heart when speaking in a whisper, it is allowed. This is the case only regarding one praying alone, but in a congregation, this disturbs the public.127

We also find similar demands for kavanat ha-lev, in terms of concentration on content, regarding the Reading of the Shema.128 Regarding the other commandments, the rabbis seem to resign themselves to the inability to demand that the masses maintain intellectual and emotional concentration, but they nevertheless insist that prayer and the acceptance of the sovereignty of Heaven conducted out of habit and without intellectual intentionality is a sort of blasphemy. No doubt, 125 For example, “‘Loving the Lord your God and serving Him with all your heart’ [Deut. 11:13]—what is service in the heart? You must say, This is prayer” (BT Ta‘anit 2a); “R. Eleazar said: A person should always take his own measure, if he is capable of directing his mind, he should pray, and if no, he should not pray” (BT Berakhot 30b). See also Sifre on Deuteronomy, Ekev 41, ed. Finkelstein, 88; BT Megillah 20a; Urbach, Sages, 1:396–97; Gerald J. Blidstein, Prayer in Maimonidean Halakha [Heb] (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1994), 106–9. 126 For example, Berakhot chaps. 4 and 8 speak of intent directed to the Holy of Holies. M Berakhot 5:1 states that “the pious of early times used to wait an hour before praying, that they might direct their heart to the Omnipresent,” while both Talmuds learn from Hannah’s prayer of the need to have contentual intent: “‘Now Hannah was praying in her heart [I Sam. 1:13]—from this we learn that one who prays must direct his heart” (BT Berakhot 31a; see also PT Berakhot 4:1). 127 BT Berakhot 24b. 128 BT Berakhot 15a. See the disagreement between the Schools of Shammai and Hillel on this issue in Israel Knohl, “‘A Parasha Concerned with Accepting the Kingdom of Heaven’” [Heb], Tarbiz 53 (1983): 11–31. Knohl agrees with the position of the School of Hillel, as follows: “The Reading of the Shema is described in these chapters as an event that is mainly an inner experience, and it requires neither detachment from routine active life nor various ceremonial trappings” (29). Knohl’s analysis is reminiscent of the division made by Heschel (see below) between intent for the sake of the Holy One, blessed be He (the internalizing way of the School of Hillel, according to Knohl) and intent for the words of the prayer (which, for Knohl, is the ceremonial opinion of the School of Shammai).

Ritual Interiorization and Intent for Commandments  •  CHAPTER ONE

the later grudging acceptance by the Geonim and the Rishonim [medieval authorities] of prayer and the Reading of the Shema without intent indicates processes of halakhic legitimization that lie beyond those implicit in the basic formalism of the Tannaitic and Amoraitic halakhah, of religious externalization to enable the continued existence of a religious way of life.129 Tishby asserted that even according to the opinion of the few Amoraim, who maintained that the commandments require intent, this referred only to the intent to fulfill a religious obligation. The rabbis do not demonstrate a clear tendency for the interiorization of religious life.130 He finds definite interiorization only in the rabbis’ demand for kavanat ha-lev in prayer [i.e., the Amidah] and the Reading of the Shema. Tishby found additional expressions of interiorization in exceptional dicta that require inner concentration and inner religious awakening in the performance of certain commandments, such as “The one who [sacrifices] much and the one who [sacrifices] little have the same [merit], provided that the heart is directed to Heaven.”131 This approach is not shared by other scholars, who regarded the term kavanah, in all its meanings as expressing the struggle for interiorization in Judaism.132 For Tishby, “interiorization” can be attributed only to intent in the sense of inner and intellectual concentration, similar to what is implicit in the demand for kavanat ha-lev in prayer. Unlike the scholars who justified the rabbis who supported the minimal intent of “fulfilling one’s obligation,”133 Tishby maintained those who claim that the commandments do not require intent adopt “an extremely formalistic view dispensing 129 Blidstein, Prayer, 109–14. “What we wrote, that if a person does not find himself with intentful thought that he should not pray, the great ones of the world ruled this was said only in the early generations, in which piety was inherent in their heart and intent was common among them; but in these generations, in which intent is not as common, a person should attempt to pray with as much intent as is possible for him, and be apprehensive of the punishment of judgment. At any rate, he should not exempt himself with the flimsy claim, saying that he cannot have intent; he rather should pray and have the intent possible for him. A person should always place the fear of Heaven before him, and if he did so, he will not speedily sin” (Menahem ben Solomon Meiri, Beit ha-Beḥirah [Jerusalem, 1961] on BT Berakhot 34b). 130 Isaiah Tishby, The Wisdom of the Zohar: An Anthology of Texts, 3 vols., trans. David Goldstein (Oxford: Littman Library, 1989), 3:942. 131 BT Berakhot 5b; 17a. See Urbach, Sages, 1:393–97. 132 Enelow, “Kawwana,” 84. Blidstein argues that “the sages of the Talmud held intent in high esteem, and it served as a code for internalization in general in all their teachings” (Blidstein, Prayer, 105). 133 See Urbach, Sages, 1:397–99; Enelow, “Kawwana,” 83–84.



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with the most elementary kind of conscientiousness, and regarding as valid the most perfunctory kind of religious acts.”134 Heschel, like Tishby, spoke of two sorts of intent in the thought of the rabbis; but unlike Tishby, he subsumed both attention to the act of the commandment (“fulfilling one’s obligation”) and attention to the words of the prayer beneath the concept of kavanat ha-lev. Heschel contrasted these two types of attention with “directing one’s heart to Heaven,” which he interpreted as attentiveness to the Holy One, blessed be He.135 Heschel argues that this second mode that emphasizes attention to God and not necessarily to the content of the words of the prayer, corresponds to R. Akiva’s idea of piety.136 He finds support for this characterization in a passage in tractate Berakhot on R. Akiva’s ecstatic private prayer.137 Thus, for Heschel R. Akiva’s prayer with the congregation was with intent of the first type, the intent of the words; while his private prayer was with intent of the second type, and directed to the Holy One, blessed be He.138 134 Tishby, Wisdom, 3:942. 135 See Abraham J. Heschel, Heavenly Torah: As Refracted through the Generations, ed. and trans. Gordon Tucker with Leonard Levin (New York: Continuum, 2005), 204. Heschel distinguishes between the version of the Tosefta: “When praying, one must direct one’s thoughts” (T Berakhot 3:4) and that of the Babylonian Talmud: “When praying one must direct his thoughts to heaven” (BT Berakhot 31a). He interprets the latter dictum in the spirit of the report that the pious of early times “would devote one hour to contemplation before praying, in order to direct their thoughts to God” (M Berakhot 5:1), resembling R. Eliezer’s dictum (BT Berakhot 28b): “when you pray, know before whom you are standing,” and in light of R. Jonah\s commentary to Berakhot, beginning of chap. 5. Lorberbaum raised a fundamental objection to Heschel’s conception, arguing that the many variants cast doubt on the possibility of drawing a distinction between the different intents, in light of the differences in terminology: kiven libo [literally, “directed his heart”], kiven da‘ato [“directed his mind”], and so forth. He suggests analyzing the term kavanah in the context in which it appears. See Lorberbaum, “Theory of Action,” 14. 136 Heschel contrasted the school of R. Akiva with that of the school of R. Ishmael, and viewed the former as focusing on the inner intent, and the latter, on the act. For a critique of this approach, see the references in Ishai Rosen-Zvi, “The School of R. Ishmael and the Origins of the Concept of Yetzer Hara” [Heb], Tarbiz 76 (2006–2007): 76 n. 165. 137 BT Berakhot 31a. 138 This distinction, between kavanat ha-lev in prayer regarding the meaning of the words and full direction to God, is evident in the legal code literature. Tur, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, Hil. Tefilah 98 states: “As it is taught, the worshiper must direct his heart, as it is said ‘You will direct their heart; You will incline Your ear’ [Ps. 10:17]—the meaning is that he is to have the intent of the words that he brings forth from his lips, and he is to think that the Divine Presence is opposite him, as it is said, ‘I am ever mindful of the Lord’s presence’

Ritual Interiorization and Intent for Commandments  •  CHAPTER ONE

Naeh suggested viewing R. Akiva’s prayer, as passive, like that of R. Hanina ben Dosa,139 basing this claim on R. Akiva’s dictum that “if his prayer is fluent [shagrah] in his mouth he should pray the Eighteen [= the Amidah prayer].”140 Naeh shows that the verb shagar is to be understood as flowing, fluency, thus, the more the prayer “flows,” the less its dependence on the worshiper’s intent and will. In his essay Naeh highlights the contrast between prayer with inner intent and “prayer of the lips.”141 It seems to me that Heschel’s distinction between two types of intent that of the words or of the commandment and intent directed to Heaven is compatible with Naeh’s suggestion. Intent focused on the words is an active process that demands of the worshiper an intellectual and emotional effort. As R. Samuel bar Nahmani comments in the Palestinian Talmud: “If you directed your heart in prayer, you are told that your prayer was heard. What is the reason? ‘You prepare their hearts, You will listen with Your ears’ [Ps. 10:17].”142 Like intent to fulfill one’s obligation pertaining to the com[Ps. 16:8]. He is to arouse this intent, and to remove all the thoughts that trouble him, until his thought and his intent remain pure in his prayer. . . . Thus would the pietists and the men of good deeds do: they would seclude themselves and have intent in their prayer until they would attain the shedding of corporeality and the predominance of the intellective spirit, until they would come close to the degree of prophecy” (see also Shulḥan Arukh, Oraḥ Ḥayyim 98:1). The beginning of this section speaks expressly of “the meaning of the words,” followed by an explanation in M Berakhot 5:1 of the early pietists who “used to wait an hour before they said the [Amidah] prayer, that they might direct their heart to their Father in Heaven.” According to the explanation given in the Tur and cited by R. Joseph Karo in Shulḥan Arukh, the ecstatic shedding of corporeality by the early pietists approached the degree of true prophecy. Heschel’s distinction is undoubtedly based on the double meaning of the intent in prayer indicated by the passages in Tur and Shulḥan Arukh. Rav’s dictum: “A person whose mind is not at ease must not pray, since it is said, ‘One who is in distress shall make no decisions’” (BT Eruvin 65a) is understandable in light of the demand for intent for the words, and even more so, on the background of the call for intent for the sake of the Holy One, blessed be He. 139 Shlomo Naeh, “‘Creates the Fruit of the Lips’: A Phenomenological Study of Prayer according to Mishnah Berakhot 4:3, 5:5” [Heb], Tarbiz 63, no. 2 (1994): 185–218. See below, in chapter three on the discussion of introspective meditation in the world of the sages of the Mishnah and Talmud, 231–33. 140 M Berakhot 4:3. 141 Following PT Berakhot and the Tannaitic dictum in T Berakhot 3:3–4. Naeh, “‘Creates the Fruit of the Lips,’” 191–93. 142 PT Berakhot 5:6; Lev. Rabbah 16:9 (attributed to R. Joshua ben Levi, see Midrash Wayyikra Rabbah, ed. Mordecai Margulies [Jerusalem, 1953], 366–67). The scriptural support from Ps. 10:17 alludes to intent in the language of the hearing and understanding of what is uttered. God will listen when the one who calls in His name



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mandments entailing action, the intent of the words is mainly active and intellective, but total, since it is directed to the content of the words of the prayer. The higher intent portrayed in the dictum “directing their heart to their Father in Heaven and praying”143 reflects psychological and more passive intentionality. This does not require maximal attention to the content of the words, but consists mainly of attentiveness to the worshiper’s activatation by Heaven in his prayer, and his sense of fulfilling the verse: “O Lord, open my lips, and let my mouth declare Your praise” (Ps. 51:17). In Heschel’s understanding, a distinction is to be drawn between the performance of a commandment for its own sake, which includes the intent to fulfill one’s obligation and the intent of the words in prayer and the Reading of the Shema, and the performance of the commandments for Heaven’s sake. Lorberbaum distinguished between two essentially different aspects of intent for commandments.144 The first contains two elements: intent as concentration, alertness, or attentiveness,145 and intent as the desire to fulfill one’s obligation.146 The second aspect is expressed as another sort of intent that gives the commandments their purpose. For him, “the religious apex is not the action of gazing upon an object or its fulfillment, but the heart’s submission.”147 will himself understand his own words. Similar to the dictum of R. Judah in the name of R. Eleazar ben Azariah regarding the Reading of the Shema: “When one recites the Shema, he must hear what he says” (BT Berakhot 15a). 143 T Berakhot 3:16. See also M Rosh Hashanah 3:8; Berakhot 4:5–6; BT Yoma 76a, on directing one’s heart to the Holy of Holies. 144 Lorberbaum, “Theory of Action.” 145 Following T Berakhot 2:7; BT Berakhot 16a; M Rosh Hashanah 3:7. Lorberbaum maintains that the depictions of R. Akiva’s ecstatic prayer in BT Berakhot 31a and T Berakhot 3:7 express forgetting oneself, a higher degree of concentration than typically required for prayer (Lorberbaum, “Theory of Action,” 15–18). 146 For example, BT Berakhot 13a; M Pesahim 10:3; or the Talmud on this mishnah (Lorberbaum references to David Halivni, Sources and Traditions: A Source Critical Commentary of the Talmud, Tractates Erubin and Pesaḥim [Heb] [Jerusalem: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1982], 575–76). “The fundamental difference between intent as the desire to fulfill one’s obligation and the other types we mentioned is that all the others are outer preconditions for the act of the commandment; these are conditions that take care so a person will not perform his obligation carelessly. But intent as intentionality is constitutive to the action of the commandment in the sense that, without the fitting intent, the act lacks its particular identity or religious worth, and its performance could not be deemed the observance of the commandment” (Lorberbaum, “Theory of Action,” 36). 147 Lorberbaum, “Theory of Action,” 46. The example he brings to illustrate this aspect is T Rosh Hashanah 2:7 and M Rosh Hashanah 3:8. Similarly to the argument by Naeh cited above, Lorberbaum, too, interprets this mishnah’s statement on “Israel’s looking upward and subjugating their heart to their Father in Heaven” as a contrast to, and not

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Lorberbaum believes that this phase reached full maturation in the writings of Maimonides, in his introduction to Perek Helek (chapter 10 of Tractate Sanhedrin) and at the end of the laws of Ritual Baths (11:12), in which he states: just as one who sets his heart on becoming clean becomes clean as soon as he has immersed himself, although nothing new has befallen his body, so, too, one who sets his heart on cleansing himself from the uncleannesses that beset men’s souls—namely, wrongful thoughts and false convictions— becomes clean as soon as he consents in his heart to shun those counsels and brings his soul into the waters of knowledge.148

Despite the obvious difference between the views of Heschel and Lorberbaum, both teach of the complexity of the term kavanat ha-lev in the world of the rabbis and of the necessity of distinguishing between its different meanings. Tishby’s understanding of interiorization is too narrow to comprise all of its elements. The first aspect described by Lorberbaum includes intents discussed in the current work both as ritual interiorization and for the commandments and as religious existentialism or inward focusing; the second aspect he discusses is described here as epistemological interiorization.149 The intent of R. Akiva and of R. Joshua ben Levi, who aspire to fluency in prayer, in the sense depicted by Naeh, is more passive and verges on abandoning the active dimension. Further, it approaches contemplative prayer or inward focusing, as is also indicated by Blidstein’s discussions of Maimonides’ intent in prayer.150

Intent in Medieval Thought and Mussar (Ethical and Pietist) Literature R. Bahya ibn Pequda is rightly thought to be the first exponent of the interiorization orientation in medieval Judaism.151 He tends to draw a sharp an explanation of, the preceding mishnah, which discussed the inner intent of the one indirectly hearing the blowing of the shofar or the reading of the Megillah. 148 Lorberbaum, “Theory of Action,” 42–43. Translation based on Moses ben Maimon, The Code of Maimonides, by Moses ben Maimon, book 10: The Book of Cleanness, trans. Herbert Danby (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954), 535. 149 Maimonides links this intent to the laws of ritual baths, which directly results from the epistemological nature of the purity laws. See below, chapter six, 462-67. 150 On Maimonides’s introspective prayer, see Blidstein, Prayer, 83–85. I will discuss the interiorization inherent in this worship below, in chapter three. 151 See Joseph Dan, Ethical and Homiletical Literature: The Middle Ages and Early Modern Period [Heb] (Jerusalem: Keter, 1975), 47–68.



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distinction between duties of the heart, duties of the limbs, and duties that combine the two, such as prayer. This division reveals his minimalist conception of intent pertaining to the duties of the limbs.152 Tishby observed: A crucial distinction between prayer and the physical obligations [rendered elsewhere as the “duties of the limbs”] arises when Bahya explains kavvanah . . . intention here primarily means the acknowledgment that the divine commands are about to be fulfilled. With prayer, however, the stress is on the emotional side, the yearning of the soul to submit itself to God.153

According to the rigid hierarchy in Ḥovot ha-Levavot, intent, as regards the duties of the limbs, is merely the first stage in the ladder of religious ascent. As regards prayer, ibn Paquda stresses the essentiality of intent for words: . . . words are a matter of the tongue, but meaning is a matter of the heart. The words are like the body of the prayer, but the meaning is like its soul. When a man prays only with his tongue . . . then his prayer is like a body without a soul, or a shell without contents, for only his body is present; his heart is absent from his prayer.154

And this is not enough; he declares: “You must know, O my brother, that the purpose of prayer is the heart’s contrition for God’s sake and its submission to Him.”155 The scholar of Sufism Sara Sviri maintains that, typologically, ibn Paquda represents devout spirituality that stems from Sufism, and is characterized by inwardness more than outwardness, and that it favors the spiritual to the physical. Here, spiritual energy is focused on inward-directed techniques, such as silent inner meditation, prayer, and meditative contemplation. She contrasts this spirituality with that of R. Judah Halevi,

152 Bahya Ibn Paquda, Ḥovot ha-Levavot, Sha‘ar Ḥeshbon ha-Nefesh, chap. 3. English translation: The Book of Direction, “On Self-Reckoning for God’s Sake,” C, 364, 366–68. Goldreich showed that Bahya’s distinction between the duties of the limbs and the duties of the heart, with the clear preference for the latter over the former, has its source in the Sufi literature, and especially in the writings of the Baghdad Muslim mystic ibn Assad al-Muhasibi (Goldreich, “Possible Arabic Sources,” 189). 153 Tishby, Wisdom, 2:943. 154 Bahya Ibn Paquda, Ḥovot ha-Levavot, Sha‘ar Ḥeshbon ha-Nefesh, chap. 3. English translation: The Book of Direction, “On Self-Reckoning for God’s Sake,” C, 365. 155 Ibid., 366.

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who placed inner intents on a lower level than outer religious action.156 Ibn Paquda’s distinction between duties of the limbs and duties of the heart and prayer, and the grading of the former as inferior, apparently led him to disregard dimensions of innerness and intent present in the world of the rabbis on manners concerned mainly with the array of the Jew’s behaviors, and especially their social behaviors. As I showed, the rabbis’ discussions of the question of intent and act in civil law and in capital cases, for example, can be placed within the context of their aim of increased importance of the inner dimension within the entire legal system of their fashioning. The expansion of the concept of intent by Maimonides is especially fascinating in light of the above, since he was both a decisor of Jewish law and influenced by the internalizing Sufi school.157 In his Guide of the Perplexed he expounds the verse “You are present in their mouths, but far from their thoughts” (Jer. 12:2) as the obligation to infuse monotheistic belief with inner epistemological meaning: . . . belief is not the notion that is uttered, but the notion that is represented in the soul when it has been averred of it that it is in fact just as it has been represented. . . . If, however, you belong to those whose aspirations are directed to ascending to that high rank which is the rank of speculation, and to gaining certain knowledge with regard to God’s being One by virtue of a true Oneness, so that no composition whatever is to be found in Him and no possibility of division in any way whatever—then you must know that He, may He be exalted, has in no way and in no mode any essential attributes. . . . If, however, someone believes that He is one, but possesses a certain number of essential attributes. . . . This resembles what the Christians say: namely, that He is one but also three, and that the three are one . . . as if what we aimed at and investigated were what we should say and not what we should believe. For there is no belief except after a representation; belief is the affirmation that what has been represented is outside the mind just as it has been represented in the mind. . . . When you shall have cast off desires and habits. . . . you shall necessarily achieve certain knowledge of it. Then you shall be one of those who represent to themselves the unity of the Name and not one of these who merely proclaim it with their mouth without representing to themselves that it has a meaning. With regard to men of this 156 Sara Sviri, “Spiritual Trends in Pre-Kabbalistic Judeo-Spanish Literature: The Case of Bahya Ibn Paquda and Judah Halevi,” Donaire 6 (1996): 82. 157 Ibid., 83.



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category, it is said: “Thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins” [Jer. 12:2].158

Maimonides’ singular position, expressed in the perception of God’s unity that denies the ascribing of any essential attribute [to’ar] to Him, is fundamentally opposed to the Kabbalistic notions that developed and intensified during the medieval period. Paradoxically, however, Maimonides’ maximalist demands regarding intent are clearly heard once again in Kabbalistic Mussar literature. In the sixteenth century Elijah De-Vidas, in the spirit of his teacher R. Moses Cordovero, gave a most expansive interpretation to the teachings of the rabbis as to whether the commandments require intent: For we previously were occupied, in the preceding chapter, with the matter of the sanctity of thought, which is the main thing in the divine service: that a person adheres to his Maker and draw down holiness to him, as the dictum of R. Simeon bar Yohai, may he rest in peace, that we copied [earlier], that all sanctity is drawn by good thought.159 And in this vein, [the rabbis,] of blessed memory, said that the commandments require intent, and this is the ruling of most of the decisors. Consequently, if one performed a commandment or engaged in Torah [study] without intent, it is as if he did nothing, and he must do this again. Several mishnayot prove this: “If one was reading in the Torah [the passage of the Shema] when the time for the reading [of the Shema] arrived, if he had intent [literally, “directed his heart”], he has fulfilled his obligation”;160 similarly, regarding one’s [Amidah] prayer: “The early pious men would wait an hour [before praying], that they might direct their hearts to the Omnipresent”;161 and similarly, if one immersed but did not have any purpose in mind, it is as if he did not immerse;162 additionally, the Rabbis said that if he did not have intent in [the blessing of] Avot [= the first blessing of the Amidah], he must return to the beginning [of the

158 Maimonides, Guide 1:50 (trans.: Moses ben Maimon, The Guide, 111–12). See Halbertal and Margalit, Idolatry, 109 n. 1. On the connection between this conception and Ḥovot ha-Levavot, see Blidstein, Prayer, 34. 159 The reference is to the Zoharic dictum brought in Elijah ben Moses De-Vidas, Reshit Ḥokhmah, Sha‘ar ha-Kedushah 5:24, ed. Hayyim Yosef Waldman, vol. 2 (Jerusalem: Or Hamusar, 1984), 249. 160 BT Berakhot 13a. 161 Following BT Berakhot 30b. 162 BT Ḥullin 31b.

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Amidah], etc.;163 and all these are fixed halakhot. Consequently, a person rectifies his thought by intent.164

The concept of intent assumes a far-reaching meaning in the book Re’shit Ḥokhmah, based on the Zoharic teaching that “Everything in the world follows the thought.”165 This perception of the term “intent” shatters the conceptual framework that directly and exclusively links intent and the act. From then on, “intent” is the proper thought that should accompany a person at every moment, when he performs a commandment, when he studies Torah, or when he is engaged in other worldly pursuits. This passage from Re’shit Ḥokhmah obviously follows the conception reflected in the extensive Kabbalistic literature on the reasons for the commandments that centered on the doctrine of Kabbalistic kavanot.166 Due to its theurgic nature, this system was unique in its existential characteristics, as I will argue below.167

Intent in Hasidism The expanded extent of the concept of intent in Kabbalistic Mussar literature of the sixteenth century greatly influenced the unique development of this concept in late eighteenth-century Hasidism.168 The teachings of the Hasidic masters give expression to the views of the authors of Ḥovot 163 BT Berakhot 30b; see Arba‘ah Turim, Oraḥ Ḥayyim 101. 164 Vidas, Re’shit Ḥokhmah, Sha‘ar ha-Kedushah 6:1, ed. Waldman, 81. 165 Sitrei Torah on Zohar 1:155a. 166 Ephaim Gottlieb, Studies in the Kabbala Literature [Heb] (Tel Aviv: Rosenberg School for Jewish Studies, Tel Aviv University, 1976), 31–32; Idel, New Perspectives, 173–99. On the rabbinic literature’s ambivalent attitude to the Kabbalistic requirement of kavanot, see Moshe Halamish, “The Confrontation with the Duty of Kawwana” [Heb], Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 13 (1996): 217–57. 167 See below, chapter five, the discussion of the reasons for the commandments and the Kabbalistic teaching of kavanot, 420–23. 168 On the Kabbalistic teaching of kavanot in nascent Hasidism, see Rivka Schatz Uffenheimer, Hasidism as Mysticism: Quietist Elements in Eighteenth-Century Hasidic Thought, trans. Jonathan Chipman (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1993), 215–41. Halamish argued that the composition and printing of Lurianic prayer books in the period of Hasidism’s emergence created a frustrating gap between the entire community of worshipers and the elite who prayed in accordance with the complicated Lurianic Kabbalistic prayer intents. This frustration directed attention to the emotional-religious element in prayer that emphasized enthusiasm and direct contact with God during prayer and during the performance of the commandments (Halamish, “Confrontation with the Duty,” 250–51).



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ha-Levavot and Re’shit Ḥokhmah. R. Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl, a disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch (who, as Hasidic legend has it, met the Baal Shem Tov in his youth) expands on this point: And similarly, as regards the commandment: we must perform the act of the commandment, which is the revealed; and the concealed, that is the secret of the commandment, is its soul and its vitality, which is His essence, may He be blessed. Consequently, when one performs [the commandment] without intent, this is as a body without a soul.169 For the act of the commandment is the body, and intent is the secret that is the soul and the vitality of the commandment. The body must be united with the soul, and this is called “the unification of the Holy One, blessed be He, and His Shekhinah,” for he unites the act, which is the body, with the soul and vitality, which is the Lord, may He be blessed, Himself, and unification is effected in all the worlds. Consequently, the letters vav-heh in [the word for commandment] mitzvah [spelled mem-tzaddi-vav-heh] are revealed, for the vav is the Written Torah, and the heh is the Oral Torah. The two primal letters, which are the letters yud-heh, are concealed in atbash; mem-tzaddi, which is the soul and the vitality, that is, the secret, which is His essence, may He be blessed.170 This is the meaning of “the reward for a commandment is a commandment,” that one cleaves to the Lord [in the aspect of] yud-heh-vav-heh, may He be blessed, and there is no greater reward than this. Now, the Rabbis, of blessed memory, said, following “she has hewn her seven pillars” [Prov. 9:1], that the Torah is divided into seven parts, for the verse “When the Ark was to set out” [Num. 10:35] divides the book [of Numbers] into three books.171 And it 169 This imagery, recurring in the medieval period, apparently first appeared in the writings of ibn Shuaib. See the expositions on the Torah by R. Joshua ibn Shu‘eib, in Shraga Abramson, “Introduction,” in Rabbi Joshua ibn Shu‘eib: Sefer Derashot al Ha-Torah [Heb], ed. Shraga Abramson (Jerusalem: Makor, 1969), 36. See the formulation of this idea by R. Hayyim Vital in Likkutei Torah (above, introduction, n. 115). 170 A common Hasidic exegetical technique reverses the order of letters in words: the letter alef (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet) becomes taf (the last letter), bet (the second letter) becomes shin, the next to last letter, and so forth. In this method, the first two letters of the word mitzvah (commandment, spelled mem-tzadi-vav-heh) become mem > yud; tzadi > heh. Leaving the last two letters unchanged (vav-heh), the word for “commandment” thus conceals the Tetragrammaton: yud-heh-vav-heh. 171 See BT Shabbat 115b–116a on the view of R. Judah ha-Nasi, cited following the Talmud’s question: “A Torah scroll in which eighty-five letters cannot be gathered, such as the section ‘When the Ark was to set out’ [Num. 10:35–36], may it be saved from a fire [on the Sabbath], or not?” According to this view, the Torah comprises seven books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, the book of Numbers until “When the Ark was to

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is known that the commandments are called “lamp,” as Scripture says, “For the commandment is a lamp” [Prov. 6:23]. This is the meaning of “When you elevate the lamps” [Num. 8:2—and the following two quotations], that is to say, when you wish to elevate yourself with the lamps (that is, the commandments) “at the front of the lampstead,” “let the seven lamps give light,” that is, the seven parts of the Torah, which are all the commandments, shall give light at the front of the lampstead, which is the inner essence and the vitality. That is, the body, which is the revealed, will unite with the soul and the life-force, which is the unification of the Holy One, blessed be He, and His Shekhinah, and unification is effected in all the worlds, as above. This is called [the performance of the commandment] for its own sake, as the teaching of the Rabbis, of blessed memory, “It is preferable to live together than to dwell in widowhood.”172 For it is known that the female receives from the male, and the female . . . has none of her own, only what the male emanates to her . . . when one performs [a commandment] without intent, this is as a body without a soul, that is, as a widow, for the female does not receive from the male. This is the meaning of “for its own sake”—for the sake of the female, for the aforementioned unification of the body and the soul, which is the unification of the Holy One, blessed be He, and His Shekhinah, and the aforementioned unification of all the worlds is effected.173

According to R. Menahem Nahum, all of the commandments, including the “duties of the limbs” (by the classification of Ḥovot ha-Levavot) are meant to be a means for elevating oneself. This ascent is performed by means of intent, which is the proper attitude towards the act of fulfillment of the command, since, for him, every commandment is compared to coupling with God. In Hasidism, the Kabbalistic formulation “for the unification of the Holy One, blessed be He, and His Shekhinah” is not a preparatory formula for a theosophic action occurring in the upper worlds, as it is in the Kabbalistic kavanot . It rather was perceived as the goal of proper religious activity, the coupling of the earthly physical element, the act of the commandment itself (that is analogous to the divine female and is symbolized in the word Shekhinah), with the inner intent, which is the soul and the vitality (that is analogous to the male, that is symbolized by the term “the set out,” the section of “When the Ark was to set out,” the book of Numbers after this passage, and Deuteronomy. 172 BT Ketubot 75a; Kiddushin 7a, and more. 173 Menahem Mendel of Chernobyl, Me’or Einayim (Jerusalem, Yeshivat “Meor Enaim,” 1975), Beha‘alotekha, 156.



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Holy One, blessed be He”). In this conception, ritual life becomes an existential means by the spiritual goal it imparts to life. The commandment is now seen as enabling man to perform acts infused with spiritual awareness of the divine vitality in all. Thus, the performance of the commandment elevates life to a higher plane than the corporeal one that lacks this awareness.174 This fundamental notion regarding the centrality of inner intent in the performance of all of Judaism’s commandments recurs in the writings of the early Hasidic masters. Individuals such as R. Menahem Mendel of Chernobyl thought—unlike the established halakhah with which they were familiar—that the commandments require intent, seeking thereby to correct what they viewed as the flawed interpretation of most of the halakhic authorities throughout the ages. R. Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk offers an innovative explanation for the nature of the proper intent for all Torah study and the fulfillment of the commandments: “The decrees of the Lord are enduring, making the simple wise” [Ps. 19:8]. Fundamentally, engagement with Torah [study] and the commandments requires intent, to understand how one is inferior and simple, and intertwined with materiality. A person [made] of earth will follow vanity, and he will act in vanity as his materiality befouls his perceptions, his desires, his attributes, and his pleasure—all is vanity when confronted with the knowledge that EinSof is greater than him and he will never fulfill his yearning, desire, and will to adhere to Him, may He be blessed. When he comprehends the vastness of the distance from Him, and he understands that he is thoughtless, devoid of sense [following Prov. 9:4], and does not understand His supreme wisdom, may He be blessed and exalted, his entire inclination will be to exert himself in his occupation with Torah [study] and the commandments, which are counsels and the knowledge of God, so that he will see with his eyes and his heart will understand, by means of occupation with the commandments that they are counsels, as is brought in the Zohar [2:82b]. . . . This is the meaning of “The decrees of the Lord are enduring,” that they are the letters of 174 In chapter five I will expand the discussion of this aspect with an analysis of the Hasidic teachings on avodah be-gashmiyut. In the current chapter I focus on the intent accompanying ritual acts in nascent Hasidism. In order to oppose Martin Buber’s existentialist interpretation of Hasidism, Gershom Scholem and some of his students ignored this central aspect of Hasidic teachings, which resulted in a distorted understanding of Hasidism. For more on yiḥud in the teaching of R. Jacob Joseph, see Margolin, Human Temple, 224–41.

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the knowledge of the Lord. For the commandments are the knowledge that connects to the holy. This is not so for the one who is wise in his own eyes— the commandments do not impart wisdom to him, for they impart wisdom only to one who is simple in his own eyes and seeks wisdom. One, however, who is wise and righteous in his own eyes, [and thinks] he lacks nothing, does not seek for occupation with Torah [study] and the commandments to enlighten him from his foolishness, to walk by its light. Consequently, what shall it illuminate for him and what is the guidance given by the commandment? If he does not ask for counsel, what will the commandment give him and what will it add for him, for counsel is given only to the one who asks properly.175

The Zohar (Yitro, 82b) describes the commandments of the Torah as counsels that keep sins from man and teach him ways to return to his Lord. R. Menahem Mendel develops this idea in an original manner, based on the Hasidic conception, similar to what was cited above from Meor Einayim. The commandments are meant to form a connection between the material world and the divine one. In Peri ha-Aretz R. Menahem Mendel states this explicitly: “The meaning of commandment [mitzvah] is the wording of unification, as ‘to be a companion [Li-tzvot] to Him’” (Berakhot 6b).”176 The attainment of this connection, however, is supremely difficult. R. Menahem Mendel finds the source of this difficulty in the material nature of the acts of the fulfillment of the commandments with the according difficulty in perceiving them as godly acts. He offers the following advice to overcome this obstacle: The root of the matter: that there is awe of the commandment, for when a person contemplates, that the act of the commandment be of the godly, as is known (see Zohar 3:228b), and he begins to perform it with his material limbs, and the objects used for the performance of commandments, too, are material—he becomes alarmed and his spirit becomes excited, how could he be turning something godly into something material—and is God material, Heaven forbid? After he became excited time after time, he nevertheless becomes stronger in his faith in Him, may He be blessed, that the commandment is connection and the words of the living God, from the supernal will. For He spoke and His will is done from the very end of the 175 Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk, Peri ha-Aretz, Vayishlaḥ (Jerusalem: Peri ha-Aretz Institute, 2014), Vayishlaḥ, 129–131. 176 Ibid., Vayeshev, 157. See the similar sentiments in the teachings cited below.



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level of the debased. He understands the matter of the Shekhinah’s being enclothed in that commandment, for it is known that every commandment is for the sake of the Shekhinah (following Zohar 1:24a), and the enclothing of the Shekhinah in the material is for the purpose of the connection of all the base corporeal beings by his limbs that are engaged in the act of the commandment, and connect through the concatenation of the attributes and the knowledge of His understanding, the root of their origin, and their coming to Ein Sof, with God’s help. This is the meaning of (Prov. 6:23) “the commandment is a lamp,” for the commandment is a lamp by the light of the Torah, since wisdom and understanding are called the light of Torah. Interpretation: by means of the wisdom and understanding [Binah] with which a person infuses the commandment, to illuminate it, which is the meaning of the Torah is light, by this the commandment is a lamp and illuminates, too. But in any case the commandment is materiality and discrete, and how can there be connection with Him, may He be blessed, through it? For it is called mitzvah, which is the language of “li-tzvat [to be a companion] to him” (Berakhot 6b),” which is the language of connection. But by the intellect and understanding that he introduces into the commandment due to the fear and trembling that seized him, not to make the godly material, with that fear he did not allow his faith to draw down love and joy, which refers to the [divine] attributes and contemplation of His greatness, may He be blessed, and His great mercies, to send branches from Ein Sof, may He be blessed, and the supernal will is the enclothing of the Shekhinah in the lower [realms], to connect them and unite them with Him, and to be united in complete devotion.177

The paradox inherent in the commandment—that it is a material act, while at the same time it is perceived, as the Zohar states, as the enclothing of the Shekhinah, as a ladder for a person who connects through it with the godly—arouses thought and contemplation. The very contemplation of the godliness attributed to the material act generates within man, within his inner self, this connection, unification, and devekut [adherence] to the godly. It is the contemplative awareness of the disparity between the godly as Ein Sof and the material reality in which man is active and in the context of which he fulfills the commandment, that forges the human connection with Ein Sof, imbues the lower reality with the thought of Ein Sof, and connects them into a single unity. 177 Ibid., Noah, 31–35.

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The Hasidic literature devotes more attention to the issue of intent in prayer than to any other realm of Jewish life with demands for introspective contemplation during prayer, while clarifying the ways to attain this state of mind and overcoming obstacles to it, central among which are “alien thoughts.” The meaning in Hasidism of prayer with intent will be discussed at length in the continuation of this chapter, and in additional chapters, below.

Ritual Interiorization in the Jewish Sources The Combination of Rite and Ethics in the Bible as Interiorization of the Biblical Sacrificial Rite Understanding the Binding of Isaac as a directive for proper intent, as was discussed above, means that the Binding effected the ritual interiorization of human sacrifice that was accompanied by the substitution of animal sacrifices for human beings. This was the first in a series of episodes that can be described as different types of the interiorization of the Biblical sacrificial rite. Moral criticism of the sacrificial rite, which culminated in its total negation, is one of the outstanding features of classical prophecy, especially the prophecies of Amos, Micah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. I loath, I spurn your festivals, I am not appeased by your solemn assemblies. If you offer Me burnt offerings—or your meal offerings—I will not accept them; I will pay no heed to your gifts of fatlings. Spare Me the sound of your hymns, and let Me not hear the music of your lutes. But let justice well up like water, righteousness like an unfailing stream. Did you offer sacrifice and oblation to Me those forty years in the wilderness, O House of Israel?178

This orientation of the prophetic literature is also expressed in the wisdom literature: “To do what is right and just is more desired by the Lord than sacrifice” (Prov. 21:3); “The sacrifice of the wicked man is an abomination, the more so as he offers it in depravity” (Prov. 21:27).179 In the Second

178 Amos 5:21–25. See also Isa. 1:1–17; Jer. 7:21–23; Mic. 6:6–8; Ps. 51:19. 179 Greenberg asserted that the prophetical reproaches are the development of this verse from the Jewish wisdom literature that has parallels in the ancient Egyptian wisdom literature: “Man’s integrity is preferable to the oxen of a wicked man” (Greenberg, Bible and Judaism, 198–99).



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Temple period apocryphal literature, these ideas were formulated with greater clarity in terms of exchanging the sacrificial rite with the moral act: He who keeps the law multiplies offerings. One who makes a sacrifice for deliverance is he who pays heed to the commandments. One who repays a kindness is one who offers the finest flour, and he who does an act of charity is one who makes a sacrifice of praise. A good pleasure to the Lord it is to withdraw from wickedness, and it is atonement to withdraw from injustice.180

Ernst Cassirer, influenced by his teacher Hermann Cohen, argued that In the prophetic books of the Old Testament we find an entirely new direction of thought and feeling. The ideal of purity means something quite different from all the former mythical conceptions. To seek for purity or impurity in an object, in a material thing, has become impossible. Even human actions, as such, are no longer regarded as pure or impure. The only purity that has a religious significance and dignity is purity of the heart.181

The prophetic opposition to the sacrificial rite, claiming that a rite conducted without commitment to the ethical commandments should not be maintained, was usually not perceived by scholars as the total negation of this rite but as relative criticism which was the product of social and historical circumstances.182 Hermann Cohen explains that the term kippurim [“atonement”] itself has its roots in myth and polytheism: The anger of the gods, which is based on envy, has to be appeased. . . . The sin, which subjectively is the sacrifice, has only the objective goal of this atonement before the gods. The holy God, on the contrary, can be angry with men only because of their injustice. And the zeal of the prophets against sacrifices is sufficiently explained by their opposition to the false gods, who could accept atonement apart from human morality.183

180 Ben-Sira 35:1–5. For English translation, see Sirach, in A New English Translation of the Septuagint, ed. Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 747. 181 Cassirer, Essay on Man, 107. 182 Yehezkel Kaufmann, History of the Religion of Israel [Heb] (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1960), vol. 3, book 1, 71–81; Buber, Torah of the Prophets, 143–67; Greenberg, Bible and Judaism, 198–99. 183 Hermann Cohen, Religion of Reason out of the Sources of Judaism, trans. Simon Kaplan (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1972), 188.

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Another explanation of the connection between the rite and the ethical critique was offered by Knohl who noted the existence of a direct link between the criticism by the prophets and the Holiness School (H—one of whose outstanding appearances is in Leviticus 19), and that drew into question the barrier that the Priestly stratum (P) erected between the rite and man’s existential needs.184 According to Knohl, this school flourished parallel to the appearance of classical prophecy.185 The linkage between the ritual and the ethical that appears in the Holiness School gave rise to new demands. P assigns the sacrifice, the Sabbath, and the festival to God; but according to the Holiness School, this God also wants justice and righteousness. Knohl asserts that the prophets’ claim that the immorality of priests and those offering sacrifices invalidated their rite influenced the joining of the moral and the ritual that is characteristic of the Holiness School. We therefore can argue in light of Knohl’s research that the chapters of the Torah that incorporate the moral and the ritual, such as Lev. 19, constitute ritual interiorization, if only from the aspect of their correcting the ritual degeneration that the prophets attacked.186 Consequently, the chapters of the Torah that join morality and rite might possibly express ritual interiorization, since the independent nature of the rite is limited here by means of inner psychological contents that are based on the sense of mercy and compassion for one’s fellow.

Ritual Interiorization in the Judean Desert Sect The processes of the interiorization of the sacrificial rite in the Bible are further developed in the Second Temple period apocryphal literature. The Testament of Levi contains a strongly worded formulation emphasizing the spiritual substitute for the sacrifice, which is similar to the approach of the Judean Desert sect, and especially its Community Rule: “the archangels. . . . They present to the Lord a pleasing odor, a rational and bloodless oblation.”187 The Damascus Document of the sect cites Prov. 15:8: “for it is writ184 Israel Knohl, The Sanctuary of Silence: The Priestly Torah and the Holiness School, trans. Jackie Feldman and Peretz Rodman (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), 175–86, 204–14. 185 Ibid., 214. 186 Ibid., 216–18. 187 Testament of Levi 3:6. For English translation, see The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, ed. James H. Charlesworth (Garden City: Doubleday, 1983), 789.



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ten, ‘the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination, but the prayer of the just is like an agreeable offering.’”188 The ritual interiorization of the Judean Desert sect is an example of criticism that does not negate sacrifices per se, it rather rejects the specific atmosphere that enveloped the sacrificial rite in the Temple. The sect members apparently cherished the sacrificial service in itself, but since they regarded the Temple service as it was conducted in their time to be impure and in error, they preferred to substitute it with a rite that lacked animal sacrifices, which was deemed more spiritual. According to Flusser, the sect members, who tended to isolationism, maintained that their more spiritual rite and their strict observance of the purity laws, which came in place of the sacrifices, were preferable to the invalid manner in which the sacrificial rite was conducted in the Jerusalem Temple. The contrast between stringent devotion to the purity of the rite and their tendency to seclusion, on the one hand, and, on the other, the belief in the importance of the sacrifices, was resolved by the conception that a pure rite is better than an impure sacrifice service.189 As the Qumran covenanters thought that the Jerusalem Temple was polluted, they could not take part in the Temple service of their time. The inability to offer real sacrifices engendered an ambivalent attitude to the sacrificial rites. On the one hand the sect hoped to offer sacrifices according to its own rites and by its own priests in a purified future Temple; on the other they believed that their non-sacrificial rites (lustration, prayers, strict observance of the Law) could serve as a full substitute for Temple service, This belief led them to speculation about the equality of the two services, to the use of symbols taken from the Temple ritual when describing Sectarian rite, and, finally, to the view that the sect itself was a kind of spiritual Temple.190

Unlike Christianity, in which the Pauline interiorization of the sacrifice and the central sacrificial crucifixion of Jesus completely replaced the sacrificial rite in the Roman world, for the Jewish people the cessation of the physical sacrifices and their replacement by substitutes did not put an end to the wish for their renewal. Just as the Dead Sea sect members kept 188 CD11:20–21, in Dead Sea Scrolls Translated, trans. by Willfred G. E. Watson and ed. Florentino Garcia Martinez (London: Brill, 1994), 42. 189 Flusser, Judaism, 37–38. Flusser finds a similar situation in the world of the rabbis: “The religious mind finds no contradiction between the view that a nonsacrificial worship is a substitute for sacrifices and the expectation of future sacrifices” (37 n. 51). 190 Ibid., 43–44.

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the ideal of the Biblical law of sacrifices in spite of the transmutation of the sacrificial rite, in late Judaism, Jews pray for the renewal of the service of the sacrifices, despite the notion that prayer replaces the sacrifice. This finds striking expression in, for instance, the Mussaf service of the Festival prayers: “May our entreaty be as pleasing to You as a burnt-offering and as a sacrifice. Please, Compassionate One, in your abundant mercy restore Your Presence to Zion Your city, and the order of the Temple service to Jerusalem, that we may worship You there.”

The Rabbis’ Interiorization of the Significance of the Sacrificial Rite In our discussion (above) on thought during the sacrificial rite according to the rabbis191 we emphasized the proper intent at the time the sacrifice was offered. Some of the midrashim relating to this issue, however, reveal an additional orientation of ritual interiorization, as reflected in the attitude of the Tannaim to the meaning of the sacrifice: If you were to say, He needs it for food, Scripture teaches: “Were I hungry, I would not tell you, for Mine is the world and all it holds” [Ps. 50:12]. It also says: “For Mine is every animal of the forest, the beasts on a thousand mountains. I know every bird of the mountains, the creatures of the field are subject to Me. Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of he-goats?” [Ps. 50: 10–11, 13]. I did not tell you to sacrifice so that you would say, I will do His will that He may do my will. You do not sacrifice for My sake, but for your own sakes, as it is said: “sacrifice it at your will” [Lev. 19:5].”192

The innovation of this baraita [external Mishnah] becomes clear when the sense of the Biblical wording in Lev. 19:5 “li-rtzonkhem tizbahahu” [“sacrifice it at your will”] is compared with the meaning it is given in the baraita. On the Biblical wording va-tirtzeni (Gen. 33:10), Rashi writes: “You are reconciled with me. And similarly every instance of ratzon in Scripture”; and in his commentary to Lev. 19:5 he interprets: “Apaisement [in Old French]; this is the literal meaning of the verse. Our rabbis, however, deduced from this that if one who is engaged with a sacrifice [without intent for the act of the commandment], it is invalid, because it is required that he intend to 191 See above, 83–6. 192 BT Menaḥot 110a; see also Sifre on Numbers, Pinḥas 143, ed. H. S. Horovitz (Leipzig, 1917), 191–96.



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slaughter it.” That is, the original meaning of ratzon is appeasing God,193 but the rabbis, who stressed the will [ratzon] of the sacrificer, thereby changed the significance of the sacrifice. One possible understanding of the changed meaning of the act of sacrifice is that it is an expression of the individual’s intent and not a response to God’s needs. Rashi states expressly in his commentary to the baraita in Menahot: “For your own needs, to fulfill commandments, so that this will effect atonement for you.”194 According to the continuation of Lev. 19, in verses 6–8, delaying the consumption of the sacrifice is an affront to “what is sacred to the Lord”; consequently, a sacrifice offered to please God but that, in practice, meets the needs of the one offering it “is an offensive thing, it will not be acceptable” (v. 7). In the world of the rabbis, wherein the pleasing and placating of God receded to the background, it became necessary to give a new meaning to the “offensive thing,” which therefore shifted from disrespect to or scorn of God, to the flawed intent of the sacrificer. Another interpretation: “Sacrifice it at your will”—sacrifice it of your own free will, sacrifice it with the proper intent. As Samuel once asked of R. Huna, Whence do we know that the offering is invalid if one engages with a sacrifice [without intent for the act of the commandment], it is invalid? As it is said: “The bull shall be slaughtered” [Lev. 1:5]—the slaughtering should be intended for the bull. He said to him: This we already know, but whence do we know that [this condition] is indispensable? [He replied:] Scripture teaches: “Sacrifice it at your will”—sacrifice it with the proper intent.195

Rashi writes on this passage in Menahot: “For it is mandatory for him to have [the proper] intent.” Thus, the ritual interiorization directly results from the intensification of the rational direction that is especially evident 193 The term ratzon, in the sense of desire, appears only in the late Biblical language, as in mishnaic Hebrew. See Ben-Yehuda, Dictionary, 6707 n. 2. See also Nahmanides’s commentary to Lev. 19:5: “. . . in order that your worship should be acceptable to Him and that He should be pleased with you, even as a servant reconciles himself to his master by doing all that he commands him to do, the expression [lirtzonḥem] being similar to: ‘v’nirtzah’ (and it shall be accepted) for him to make atonement for him; but by the light of Thy countenance, because ‘retzithan’ [should be: retzithem] (Thou was favorable unto them).” For English translation, see Moses ben Nahman, Commentary on the Torah: Ramban (Nahmanides), vol. 3, trans. Charles B. Chavel (New York: Shilo, 1971), 287. 194 See a proximate, but different, formulation in Goldstein, “Worship in the Temple,” 40. 195 BT Menaḥot 110a.

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in the perception of God; this already began in the Bible196 and was further developed in the thought of the rabbis concerning sacrifices. This process is conditional upon the highlighting of epistemological intentionality,197 and continued by focusing religious attention on the mental and emotional processes that occur within the religious person’s inner self. The shift in emphasis, from the ritual act itself (the offering of a sacrifice to the Lord) to the quality of the inner process accompanying the act, is not an expression of man’s increased interest in himself for his own sake. To the contrary, the sacrifice as ratzon-appeasement is an act of human benefit, since the sacrificer believes that his ritual acts will ensure him of God’s protection and the granting of his needs. The offering of a sacrifice out of inward intentionality that realizes the individual’s psychological and spiritual need to give expression to his thoughts and feelings regarding God, is somewhat of a sublimation of the straightforward utilitarian rite and should certainly not be condemned on the claim that its internalizing nature increases human egotism. The ritual interiorization in this context joins together with interiorization of intent and religious existentialism, which will be discussed in chapters five and six.

Prayer as Ritual Interiorization Hermann Cohen formulated the special connection in Judaism between prayer and sacrifice as follows: “If there were no prayer, worship would consist only in sacrifice. It is therefore possible to say that sacrifice could not have ceased if prayer had not originated in sacrifice and from sacrifice.”198 The first formulation of this bond, including a clearly enunciated rationale, appears in Solomon’s prayer during the dedication of the First Temple: “But will God really dwell on earth? Even the heavens to their uttermost reaches cannot contain You, how much less this House that I have built! Yet turn, O Lord my God, to the prayer and supplication of Your servant, and hear the cry and prayer which Your servant offers before You this day. May Your eyes be open day and night toward this House, toward the place of which You have said, ‘My name shall abide there’; may You heed 196 See Ps. 50, and Solomon’s prayer in I Kings 8:27–40 (that will be discussed below). 197 As described above in the discussion of thought concerning consecrated items see above, 83–6. 198 Cohen, Religion of Reason, 371.



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the prayers which Your servant will offer toward this place. And when You hear the supplications which Your servant and Your people Israel offer toward this place, give heed in Your heavenly abode—give heed and pardon. Whenever one man commits an offense against another, and the latter utters an imprecation to bring a curse upon him, and comes with his imprecation before Your altar in this House, oh, hear in heaven and take action to judge Your servants, condemning him who is in the wrong and bringing down the punishment of his conduct on his head, vindicating him who is in the right by rewarding him according to his righteousness.”199

Although the offering of sacrifices in the House of God occupies center stage in the Temple dedicated by Solomon, in essence it is a house of prayer, in the spirit of Isaiah’s prophecy: “I will bring them to My sacred mount and let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices shall be welcome on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isa. 56:7). According to this conception, prayer is the fundamental action undertaken in the Temple, although in practice prayer is adjunctive to the offering of sacrifices. Solomon in beginning his prayer with the patent rationalization that “Even the heavens to their uttermost reaches cannot contain You,” and in contrast with the mythic element in the term “House of the Lord,” attests that placing prayer at the center of the Temple activity is an integral part of that same rationalization.200 Taking exception to the basic meanings of the sacrifice as food given to God who dwells in the Temple, as “an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord” (Lev. 1:9), prayer is presented as the primary justification for the building of the Temple, which in this sophisticated manner changes from the House of God to a house of prayer. In the account in I Kings 8, Solomon is aware that the Temple is a symbolic structure, a place of assembly for prayer; God does not physically dwell in it, but from Heaven answers the prayers directed to Him from the Temple. 199 I Kings 8:27–32 200 Finkelstein argues that, from an archaeological perspective, the narrative in I Kings regarding the Solomonic kingdom could more plausibly be attributed to scribes who lived in the seventh century, close to the Assyrian conquest of the Northern Kingdom. See Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible’s Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition (New York: Free Press, 2006). In this period, the inhabitants of Judah and Samaria might have been exposed to Assyria’s wealth and culture, in a process that might have stimulated rationalization efforts.

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A different process took place in the late Second Temple period, when the fixed prayers were fashioned and gradually came in place of the personal prayers; and, to an even greater degree, following the destruction of the Temple when these fixed prayers replaced the sacrificial service.201 The fashioning of a ritual prayer service alongside the sacrificial rite202 intensified the ritual nature of the fixed prayers and set them as parallels to the sacrificial rite itself. It is difficult to determine the degree of ritual interiorization by means of prayer in this period. Tishby wrote that the identification of prayer with the service of the heart could be interpreted in two different ways: prayer as a temporary substitute for the sacrifices; or prayer as worship in man’s inner self, independent of a material and outer rite, and therefore superior to such a rite.203 Tishby based this on the rabbinic teaching: “The Holy One, blessed be He, says to Israel: I shall not receive from you, My children, whole-offerings, sin-offerings, guilt-offerings, or offerings of grain. But you can please Me with prayer, with supplications, and with the devotion of the heart [u-ve-kavanat ha-lev].”204 The personal prayers by the Sages recorded in Tractate Berakhot and the unconventional nature of the prayers of rabbis such as R. Akiva (which will be examined below, in the discussions of existential and inward-focused interiorizations) could offer a partial positive answer to this question. In contrast, certain conceptions in medieval thought—especially those of the author of Ḥovot ha-Levavot and Maimonides—clearly attest to the ritual interiorization of prayer.205 The writings of R. Abraham son of Maimonides, who headed the pietist movement in thirteenth-century Egypt, reflect one of the pinnacles of medieval Jewish ritual interiorization.206 201 Joseph Heinemann, Prayer in the Talmud: Forms and Patterns (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1977), 13–17. 202 See Sifre on Deuteronomy, Ekev 41, ed. Finkelstein, 87–88; BT Berakhot 15a; 26b; PT Berakhot 4:7. 203 Tishby, Wisdom, 2:941. 204 Pesikta Rabbati, ed. Meir Friedmann (Vienna, 1880), 198b. See Tishby, Wisdom, 2:868. 205 Prayer in Ḥovot ha-Levavot and in Maimonides’s writings will be discussed below, in the chapters on introspective contemplation (chapter three) and on epistemological interiorization (chapter six). 206 Paul B. Fenton, “Introduction” [Heb], in David b. Joshua b. Abraham Maimonides, Doctor ad Solitudinem et Ductor ad Simplicitatem (Jerusalem: Mekize Nirdamim, 1987), 13–19. On the Jewish Sufi movement, see Samuel Rosenblatt, The High Ways to Perfection of Abraham Maimonides, vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1927); S. D. Goitein, “Documents on Abraham Maimonides and His Pietist Circle” [Heb], Tarbiz 33 (1963): 181–97; Naphtali Wieder, Islamic Influences on the Jewish Worship [Heb] (Oxford: East and West Library, 1947).



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In chapter 25 of Sefer ha-Maspik Le-Ovdey Hashem, which discusses the obligations to pray in general and the specific terms berikhah [kneeling], keri’ah [genuflection], kidah [bowing], and hishtahaviyah [prostration], R. Abraham speaks of the levels in the worship of the Lord: After defining these names and understanding their meanings, I say that you should know that these forms of service of the Lord are of [different] levels in the service of the Lord. The explanation for this is that what is suitable for him is that the service of the Lord, may He be exalted, might be in the inner essence solely, by it being exclusively in kavanat ha-lev and thought. Such service of the Lord is attained only by “everyone who invokes the name of the Lord shall escape’ [Joel 3:5], for a person does not depart from Him, may He be exalted, not even while sleeping. . . . The service of the Lord might possibly be in the inner essence—in the heart; and in outer fashion—in the limbs. The prophet says regarding this: “My heart and my flesh shout for joy to the living God” [Ps. 84:3]. The service of the Lord in this outer fashion in the limbs might be only by speech with the tongue, and reflects the potential for the heart’s action as possible in every situation and in every place, and it is also very distinguished, but to lesser degree than the service of the Lord in thought alone . . . and the service of the Lord might be in the outer form—in the form of sitting toward Him may He be exalted, to arouse the existence of kavanat ha-lev. This is done by the sitter sitting with his limbs enfolded, facing the “Mizrah” [i.e., the eastern wall, facing Jerusalem]. It is preferable that nothing intervene between him and the wall, and that his sitting be sitting in service of the Lord. My intent is to the berikhah form that we explained above; this is the first level in the form of the service of the Lord for prayer. Know that there is no special situation for that distinguished form, nor is any certain speech reserved for it. It ensues from the purity of the reality in the heart, and the reality in the heart precedes it. It is possible that what is spoken within him then is the holy spirit or close to that. Regarding this form of the service of the Lord, my intent is that the sitting and what follows it is preparation for the realization of kavanat ha-lev and its refinement. Kavanat ha-lev is awakened and is purified in him until it comes, in its culmination, to the one who exerts himself and is whole-heartedly devoted—and becomes increasingly sanctified in his heart—and its companion is the godly providence, until the great condition that we previously indicated.207 207 Abraham ben Maimon, Sefer ha-Maspik, chap. 25, fol. 32b-34b, ed. Dana, 126–28.

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I will discuss the nature of the inner worship portrayed at the beginning of this passage in the chapter on epistemological interiorization (chapter six), in which I will also relate to Maimonidean contemplative prayer. This passage is important for its presentation of levels in prayer, some of which are open to a broader public of worshipers. According to R. Abraham, the less perceptible prayer is in the outer realms, and the more it is conducted totally in a person’s thought, with neither external expression nor dependence on outer ritual formulations, the higher and more exalted it is deemed; but there are intermediate ways of prayer on levels higher than the purely external that are accessible to the public at large. The advice he gives here to a relatively broad stratum that aspires to interiorization in prayer, namely, to prepare the heart by meditative sitting, “leg on thigh—as [the shape of] a pool,” is meant to enable a person to concentrate and sharply focus his inward intentionality before engaging in ritual prayer. The patent influence of Muslim prayer attests to an attempt to adopt its advantages in order to enable greater concentration. This innovation was proposed by R. Abraham and was not accepted by the Jewish world, but nevertheless attests to this endeavor to interiorize the rite of prayer by introducing changes in the physical postures of prayer.

The Ritual Interiorization of Prayer in Kabbalah Gottlieb distinguished between two trends evident in Kabbalistic prayer: devotion [devekut] to the Godhead and the rectification of the divine world.208 At times, these orientations are completely separate from each other, while in other instances they are incorporated with one another.209 The devotional orientation will be discussed below, in chapter three. The 208 Ephraim Gottlieb, “The Meaning of Prayer in the Kabbala” [Heb], in Gottlieb, Studies in the Kabbala Literature, 38–55 (Tel Aviv: Rosenberg School for Jewish Studies, Tel Aviv University, 1976). Haviva Pedaya (“‘Possessed by Speech’: Towards an Understanding of the Prophetic-Ecstatic Pattern among Early Kabbalists” [Heb], Tarbiz 65, no. 4 [1996]: 588) distinguished between the two trends, arguing that in the theurgic context the worshiper’s thought adheres to the Godhead with an awareness of the unification between the different elements in the Godhead; and in the context of devekut (that scholarly research terms the mystical-ecstatic context), the worshiper’s thought adheres to the Godhead out of an awareness of its connection with the Godhead, in an attempt to draw the holy spirit into itself. 209 Tishbi, Wisdom of the Zohar, 1:240–41; Idel, New Perspectives, 103. Pedaya finely illustrated the combination of these two orientations by the early Kabbalists; see Pedaya, “‘Possessed by Speech.’”



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other trend, which was expressed in the Kabbalistic teaching of kavanot, and especially in that of R. Isaac Luria,210 was identified by scholars as ­theurgy.211 Enelow regarded the theurgic Kabbalistic kavanot as a spiritual regression by Judaism, since their aim was to influence the Godhead in order to attain changes in the world in accordance with human desires, similar to the Biblical conception of sacrifices.212 The Kabbalists themselves, however, perceived these mystical intents as spiritual elevation since, unlike the supplicatory prayer, the worshiper is not interested in his personal benefit but in the strengthening and rectification of the godly world. Ritual interiorization is the exchange of traditional rites by those perceived by their founders as more lofty or spiritual; therefore, at least from the viewpoint of the Kabbalists themselves, the Kabbalistic kavanot are a type of ritual interiorization of halakhic prayer. R. Meir ibn Gabbai emphasizes that these kavanot elevate religious worship, since they are not done for the worshiper’s private needs: The intent that he makes in his worship wholly ascends on high, that is, for a sublime need, and he does not intend it for his utility at all. Rather, the faithful servant must have the intent in his service for the unification of the great Name, for His glory, for this is the meaning of directing his words above, that his service will be for a lofty aim. But beside this, the entire intent for unification must be [only] for His own sake, and not for any other.213

From this perspective, which emphasizes that prayer with kavanot is “for a sublime need,” in contrast with material supplicatory prayers, “theurgic” intents too can be regarded as a sort of religious interiorization. The purpose of prayer does not lie in its outer verbal content but in its hidden inner role that is created by the worshiper’s intellective process. The worshiper with these kavanot is actually introspectively contemplating God’s various names, which are identified with God’s sundry powers,

210 See Tishbi, Wisdom of the Zohar, 3:962–74; Hayyim Vital, Sha‘ar ha-Kavanot. 211 On Kabbalistic theurgy and its sources, see Idel, New Perspectives, 156–99; Charles Mopsik, Les grands textes de la Cabale: Le rites qui font Dieu (Paris: Verdier, 1993). 212 Enelow, “Kawwana,” 103–105. 213 Meir ibn Gabbai, Avodat ha-Kodesh, Ha-Avodah, chap. 13, fol. 33c (Jerusalem, 1954). In this context see the discussion by Halamish on the question of the obligation of Kabbalistic kavanot: Halamish, “Confrontation with the Duty,” 224.

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in accordance with the Kabbalistic teaching of the Sefirot; and he seeks to effect their unification and to raise them to their source in Ein Sof:214 With these secrets a person can adhere to his Lord, and know the perfection of wisdom in the supernal secret when he worships his Lord in prayer, with ratzon. With the intent of the heart he causes his will to adhere as fire to the ember, to unite those lower firmaments from the aspect of holiness, to adorn them—the lower ones—with one Name, and proceeding from there; to unify those inner supernal firmaments, so that they will all be in that uppermost firmament, that stands over them. While his mouth and lips are moving, he is to direct his heart, and his will will ascend higher and higher, to unify all with the secret of secrets, where all the desires and thoughts lodge, which is in the secret of Ein Sof. He is to have this intent in each and every prayer each and every day, to adorn all his days with the secret of the supernal days in his worship.215

The intent of prayer, for the Zohar, is the worshiper’s intellective intent for the unification of the divine worlds [the Sefirot], from the lowest, Malkhut, to the highest, Binah, to Ein Sof, the supernal source of reality. This is presumably directed exclusively to what happens within the Sefirot but the rectification of these supernal worlds is also the building of the lower worlds and the world of man. The elevation of thought in prayer also elevates man since the Zohar is based on the principle that man bears responsibility for the world’s existence with his acts and intentions. Improper acts and intents are easily liable to disturb the inner-divine balance that maintains the world. This, of course, is not ritual interiorization by physiological function such as fasts or changing one’s manner of sitting, as mentioned above; but these intents unquestionably generate spiritual-religious sublimation from the perspective of the worshiper. The Kabbalist’s intellectual awareness, which focuses on the intents accompanying each word of his prayer and every act of the religious rite and which he directs “for a lofty aim,” must bear a profound meaning in the Kabbalist’s inner self and not only relate to the theurgic aim of changing the external reality.216 I will discuss the existential meanings of Kabbalistic prayer as prayer “for a 214 See my discussion of epistemological interiorization in chapter six, which examines the conception at the basis of this idea. See below, 496–500. 215 Zohar 2:213b. 216 See Abraham J. Heschel, “The Mystical Element in Judaism,” in The Jews: Their History, Culture, and Religion, vol. 2, ed. Louis Finkelstein (New York: Harper, 1960), 932–53



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lofty aim” in chapter five within the context of the existential aspects of the Jewish sources.

The Interiorization of Prayer in Hasidism and the Struggle against Alien Thoughts Lurianic prayer intents are based on a multitude of divine names in which the regular words of prayer are enclothed and on which the Kabbalist concentrates while praying. Nascent Hasidism explicitly rejected a considerable portion of these complex intents. It turned to what Gottlieb described as the devotional orientation in Kabbalistic prayer and rejected the intents of names and the traditional Kabbalistic meaning of yihudim [unifications].217 The Baal Shem Tov’s grandson, the author of Degel Mahaneh Ephraim, formulated the fundamental Hasidic conception of this issue when he shifted the Kabbalistic focus on the Sefirot to a direct focus on God and His vitality: For the speech that issues forth from a person with the intent of his heart and his thought in fear and love is called speech, but when he speaks without intent and without fear and love, this is not called speech at all, there is neither speech nor words. See the Tikkunim, and he is called dumb [aleflamed-mem], for this speech does not contain the letters [of the divine Name] yud-heh, which are the aspect of mohin [mind, i.e., divine consciousness], that it would become the word Elohim [alef-lamed-heh-yud-mem, God], and remains the letters alef-lamed-mem, which is not deemed to be speech. This is the meaning of what is written [Ps. 39:3]: “I was dumb [ne’elamti], silent [dumiyah = dumi-yud-heh]”—ne’eleamti: I became as dumb. And the explanation of dum-yud-heh: one who speaks without the letters yud-heh— which is mohin—speaks without intent, and without fear and love.218

According to the scholar of Hasidism Mendel Piekarz when Hasidism began to be a mass movement, R. Elimelech of Lyzhansk, as is evident in his book Noam Elimelekh, developed a new ideational-social orientation in Hasidism: from worship directed to the supernal worlds and the redemption of the Shekhinah to prayer for the salvation of Israel, in the material 217 See Kalonymus Kalman Epstein, Ma’or va-Shemesh on Deut. 30:11. 218 Moses Hayyim Ephraim of Sudylkow, Degel Maḥaneh Efrayim, Noah, s.v. “O.” On the meaning of the term deḥilu ve-reḥimu [“fear and love”] in this context and on its Kabbalistic origins, see Margolin, Human Temple, 160–64, 201–204; and below, 259 n. 145.

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sense of the word. This shift focused the inner world of the Hasidim on their belief in the tzaddiq [Hasidic rabbi] and designated the latter’s religious activity to attain worldly abundance for his Hasidim. In practice, most of the community would no longer be required to have maximal intent in the performance of all the commandments and so even the nature of the ­tzaddiq’s intent underwent change:219 According to what is taught in the Talmud, a person should always study Torah and [observe the] commandments, even not for their own sake, for [by engaging in the commandments] not for their own sake, one will come [to engage in them] for their own sake. It seems that the interpretation is that all Torah and commandments performed without intent is like a body without a soul. Accordingly, when a person studies Torah or performs a commandment not for its own sake, only the body is born from this, but not the soul. This is not so for the holy tzaddiq who learns for its own sake, who is created by 248 spiritual limbs. The tzaddiq who studies for its own sake is capable of raising the Torah and commandments of the one who studied not for its own sake, for he is capable of drawing a soul to the study of the one who made only a body. This is the meaning of [by engaging in the commandments] not for their own sake, one will come [to engage in them] for their own sake: this means that the Torah will come to the one who studies for its own sake, and he will correct [yetakneh] it [i.e., its study without intent] by the limbs of the soul. This could also be the intent of the verse “A prayer of the lowly man when he is faint [and pours forth his plea before the Lord]” [Ps. 102:1]—the meaning of the “lowly man” [ani, literally, “poor”] is that he is called lowly in consciousness, and cannot have intent in his prayer; his remedial measure is that he joins himself with the complete tzaddiq who has intent in prayer, who elevates the prayer of the lowly man with his pure prayer, for the prayer of the lowly man remains without a soul, the tzaddiq gives it vitality, and by this his prayer ascends. How can the prayer of the lowly man be accepted by the Divine will? The interpretation of the verse, “when he is faint [ya`atof]” is that he joins with the complete tzaddiq, and ya`atof is the language of connection, which is

219 Mendel Piekarz, The Hasidic Leadership: Authority and Faith in Tzadiqim [Heb] (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1999), 136–90.



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“before the Lord.” “Pours forth his plea” means that the tzaddiq will pour forth the lowly man’s plea before the Lord, that it may be accepted in love.220

A study of Hasidic writings from the early nineteenth century shows that R. Elimelech’s new direction did not cancel the demand by the tzaddiqim of their congregation for intent in their performance of the commandments; now, however, they focused on prayer and this demand was more firmly grounded in the halakhic orientation regarding intent. In nascent Hasidism, the Hasidic masters taught that prayer with intent means ecstatic prayer, especially by inward contemplation. In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however, the focus on intent consisted mainly in the ritual interiorization of prayer but not necessarily in the introspective meditative method of the Maggid of Mezeritch and his disciples. This is plainly evident in the writings of R. Elimelech’s disciple, R. Menahem Mendel of Rymanow (died 1815), who feared rote in worship and especially in prayer: The Torah teaches us what is good and right in the service of our Creator, may He be blessed, how a person will be wise and contemplate every day before his prayer, and think of the sublimity of God, may He be blessed and His greatness; he is to be wise [to choose] with what mind he will stand to pray before the awesome and holy King, and which interpretations and intents he will renew in his prayer. For anyone who has a brain in his head can know that even before a flesh-and-blood king it is not fitting to stand, and every day say the same song, without anything new; and certainly so before the King who enthrones kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, who probes the mind and the conscience, how much more so we must renew every day, always, the intent of the heart. . . . Man stands to pray in the befouled body that separates him and confuses his mind with alien thoughts. He must exert himself and overcome with all his strength, to remove the physical power and bolster the intellective power, until his face appears red as a man of war. Afterwards, when he overcomes his desire and bests it, then he becomes a bit whiter because he rests from his toil. Then he will be able to pray with the intent of the heart, in quiet and repose, without trouble and labor.221

220 Elimelech of Lyzhansk, Noam Elimelekh, Balak (Rishon Lezion: Agudat Hasidei Kalibnoam, 1973). 221 Menahem Mendel of Rymanow, Divrei Menaḥem (New York: Moishe Torim, 1985), 17–18.

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For R. Menahem Mendel, the central problem in attaining inward intent in prayer is that of routine. To resist routine, one must renew interpretations and intents in prayer that can afford it the freshness it lacks. The alien thoughts with which Hasidism contended from its inception are mainly physical urges, thoughts of which attack man with greater intensity during prayer. Actual physical effort must be exerted against them when beginning to pray. In the end, this endeavor will result in a respite that will enable deep inner concentration, a process that is evident in the transition from a loud vocal prayer to a quiet and focused one. The teaching of the struggle against alien thoughts during prayer occupied a central place in the world of the Hasidim, already on the basis of traditions ascribed to the Baal Shem Tov. This struggle clearly expresses the efforts by the early Hasidic masters not to surrender to outer prayer, in which the mouth utters while one’s thought roams to distant places. In Likkutei Moharan R. Nahman of Bratslav casts the question of intent in prayer in an original light: The soul is most precious. One must be careful with it and guard it well. One must therefore be very cautious when some new honor and glory come one’s way. This is because glory is “the mother of all living things” (Genesis 3:20) and the root of all souls. When the soul passes away, it is taken up into glory, its root, as in “the glory of God will gather you in” (Isaiah 58:8). The souls pass away and are gathered into glory because that is their root. . . . Occasionally, the soul becomes weary on account of its having grown distant from its mother, namely the glory. One must then revive it and heal it by means of cool water, as in “Cool water over a weary soul” (Proverbs 25:25). When we pray without the heart, the soul is distanced from glory, as in “with their lips they honor Me, but their heart is distant . . .” (Isaiah 29:13). For the intention of the heart corresponds to the soul, as it is written (Psalms 25:1), “O God, I lift up my soul to You”—and Rashi explains: I direct the intention of my heart. But when the heart is distant from the words of prayer, then the soul, which corresponds to the heart, is distant from glory. . . . Cool water is gotten through the aspect of thunder, which in turn is made by honoring an elderly sage who has forgotten his studies. As our Sages, of blessed memory, taught: Take heed of the elderly sage who has forgotten his studies (Berakhot 8b). One must take heed and honor him. . . . Praying without the intention of the heart, which makes the soul weary, blemishes the bones. While praying, a person has to feel the words of prayer in all his bones, as in “All my bones proclaim” (ibid. 35:10). Thus the cool



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water that revives the soul, revives the bones, as in “and the marrow of his bones made moist” (Job 21:24).222

R. Nahman writes that prayer with inward intent constitutes a mental connection between the worshiper and the content of his prayer. The soul’s source is godly223 and therefore a person who prays with an inner distance between himself and the prayer itself causes the soul to be separated from its godly source. Consequently, the “intent of the heart” means prayer with the heart, that is, connection to the godly. The feeling of weariness and fatigue felt by one who prays without intent is understood by R. Nahman as a direct consequence of his inner self being distanced from the godly. Healing will be effected by reviving the soul by passion and renewal of the worshiper’s link with the content of his prayer. R. Nahman presents two images as ways of reviving the soul in prayer, that is, of enabling the connection between the contents of the prayer and the worshiper’s inner self. One is the metaphor of cool water which is received from thunder. The other (which is given priority in this teaching) is honoring an elderly person who has forgotten his studies. In order to understand the content of these images, we must look at other instances of their use in Likkutei Moharan. In Teaching 5:3 he writes: It is impossible for the heart to rejoice unless one removes the crookedness within it, so that he might have a “straight heart.” Then he will merit joy, as is written, “And for the straight of heart, joy” (Psalms 97:11). The crookedness of the heart is straightened by means of “thunder.” As the Rabbis teach: “Thunder was only created to straighten the crookedness of the heart” (Berakhot 59a). Thunder is the “aspect” of the powerful sound a person releases while praying. For it is this [voice] which generates “thunder.”224

Prayer in a loud voice, which is like the sound of thunder, is a means for straightening the heart and overcoming all the inner obstacles that distract a person from his prayer. This surmounting enables the worshiper to

222 Nahman of Bratzlav, Likkutei Moharan 1:67(1 and 8). For English translation see Likutey Moharan, vol. 8, trans. Moshe Mykoff, Symchah Bergman, Chaim Kramer (Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute, 2005), 166–215. 223 On the origin of this notion in the Zohar, see below, 296–99. 224 Likkutei Moharan 1:5(3). For English translation see Likutey Moharan, vol. 1, trans. Simcha Bergman (Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute, 1986), 86–87.

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directly connect with the godly glory without disturbances and to serve the Lord in joy.225 The second metaphor is explicitly explained in another teaching: This is the explanation of the three warnings that Rabbi Yehudah the son of Beteira of Netzivin issued: Be mindful of the elderly sage who has forgotten his studies due to hardships; be mindful of the veins, in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah; be mindful of the sons of the ignorant, for Torah will issue from them (Sanhedrin 96a). For all these three aspects allude to the soul’s ascent, the intellect, the Torah and the memory. The elderly sage who forgot his studies due to his hardships corresponds to death and foolishness due to forgetfulness. However, the Torah pardons one who is under duress, and Rabbi Yehudah warned that he be honored. For through honor, his forgetfulness is eliminated and the soul is revealed—i.e., the Torah is recalled. This is because the root of the Torah is God’s glory, as in, “whom I have created for My glory . . . “ And as our Sages taught: Honor is due only for Torah (Avot 6:3).226

For R. Nahman, the elderly sage who has forgotten his learning exemplifies the reviving of the soul in instances of a loss of inner intention. When a person is in a state of spiritual death, he recalls the times in which his situation was different; times in which he sensed that God dwells within him. The very memory returns him to the inner joy that he has lost. He revives himself by force of the recollection of what was and with this power he prays in a loud voice, thus bringing joy and vitality into his prayer, thereby invigorating it.

Repentance and the Interiorization of the Biblical Concept of Atonement The Palestinian Amora R. Phinehas maintained the superiority of repentance to the atonement effected by sacrifices and to the doctrine of reward and punishment: 225 Based on this teaching, in his Likkutei Tefilot, R. Nathan composed the supplication: “May I merit to bring forth the sound and speech of prayer with great force. May I merit that my voice be heard like the thunder of Your powers. May this voice arouse the intent of my heart, that my heart may hear and understand well what I pray before You. That I merit to pray with intent of the heart” (Nathan of Nemirov, Likkutei Tefilot 5 [Jerusalem: Hasidei Brasla,1957], 10). 226 Likkutei Moharan 1:37(5). For English translation see Likutey Moharan, vol. 5, trans. Moshe Mykoff (Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute, 1997), 202–205.



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It is written: “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore doth He instruct sinners in the way” (Psalms 25:8). Why is He good? Because He is upright. The Torah was asked: “What is the sinner’s punishment?” It replied: “Let him bring a sacrifice and he shall win atonement.” Prophecy was asked: “What is the sinner’s punishment?” It replied: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). David was asked: “What is the sinner’s punishment?” He replied: “Let sinners cease out of the earth” etc. (Psalms 104:25). Wisdom was asked: “What is the sinner’s punishment?” It replied: “Evil pursueth sinners” etc. (Proverbs 13:21). The Holy One, blessed be He, was asked: “What is the sinner’s punishment?” He answered them: “Let him repent and I shall accept him,” for it is written: “Good and upright is the Lord.”227

Other midrashim use the verses of repentance in Psalms 51 as scriptural support for the argument that repentance is of equivalent worth to the sacrifices, and comes in their stead: Whence [is it derived] that if one repents, it is accounted as if he went up to Jerusalem, built the Temple, and offered in it all the sacrifices in the Torah? This is derived from the following verse: “True sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit, etc.” [Ps. 51:19].228

It could be claimed that the historical circumstances were the background of this development. Arguing, however, that only the abrogation of sacrifices due to the destruction of the Second Temple led to alternatives such as repentance, which until the Destruction had been marginal to religious life, cannot withstand critical scrutiny. Admittedly, the idea of repentance reaches full maturity in the Bible in the prophecy of Ezekiel, that is, in the Babylonian exile that followed the destruction of the First Temple; but it was Ezekiel, specifically, who prophesied of both the renewal of sacrifices and repentance. Hermann Cohen, who argued that “through Ezekiel, particularly, repentance became the inward substitute for 227 PT Makkot 2:7, according to a Genizah fragment published by Solomon Wieder, Tarbiz 17 (1946): 133 (quoted by Urbach, Sages, 1:463–64). See Urbach, Sages, 2:892 n. 70 for textual variants of this passage. 228 Lev. Rabbah 7:2, ed. Margulies, 151. And similarly: “Come and see how great are the humble of spirit before the Holy One, blessed be He: when the Temple stood, a man brought a burnt-offering and received the reward for a burnt-offering . . . but regarding the one whose mind is humble, Scripture ascribes it to him as if he had offered every one of the sacrifices, as it is said: True sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit, etc.” (BT Sotah 5b; Sanhedrin 43b).

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sacrifice,”229 also noted that Ezekiel did not invalidate sacrifices but called for internal rectification and change.230 The Destruction possibly expedited and brought into sharper focus the superiority of personal repentance but Deutero-Isaiah’s criticism of the fast of atonement231 already stresses the worth of the behavioral, inner change without which repentance is meaningless. Hermann Cohen maintains that the book of Ezekiel marks a shift in the prophets’ conception of repentance. He understands the verse “Cast away all the transgressions by which you have offended, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezek. 18:31) as a leap forward in the Biblical interiorization processes. He asserts that this verse emphasizes awareness and admission, two types of inward thought that require an outer manifestation, namely, an action. The sacrifice is a symbol, while repentance is to be more than that: it must be an actual act, the realization of the will.232 Ezekiel is not satisfied with the prophecy of the new heart and the new spirit that God will give the people of Israel after He has forged a new covenant with the people, as Jeremiah prophesied in Jer. 31; he goes further, and calls to make a new heart and a new spirit: “This possibility of self-transformation makes the individual an I.”233 The doctrine of repentance developed by the prophets did not focus exclusively on a critique of sacrifices, it also expressed opposition to outer fasts that did not entail actual repentance. Ben-Sira develops the criticism of fasts in Isaiah 58 as follows: “When one bathes due to a corpse and when one touches it again—what did he gain by his washing? So is a person when he fasts for his sins and goes again and does the same things; who will listen to his prayer, and what did he gain by humbling himself?”234 The Tosefta prescribes that on a public fast the elder recites Isa. 58:3–8, and adds: If a person had a reptile in his hand, even if he immerses in the Shiloah [= Siloam] or in all the waters of Creation, he will never be clean. If he cast the reptile from his hand, then the immersion is accounted for him [only] in forty seah of water. And so it says: “He who confesses and gives them up will

229 Cohen, Religion of Reason, 27. 230 Ibid., 174–77. 231 Isa. 58:6–7. 232 Cohen, Religion of Reason, 202–203. 233 Ibid., 193. 234 Ben-Sira 34:30–31 (trans.: Sirach, 747).



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find mercy” [Prov. 28:13], and it says, “Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands to God in heaven” [Lam. 3:41].”235

The parables of ineffective immersion highlight the need for an inner decision and actual behavioral change that originates in a person’s inwardness. The development of the idea of repentance in rabbinic thought, and especially in M Yoma 8:9: “for transgressions that are between a man and his fellow the Day of Atonement effects atonement only if he has appeased his fellow,” substitutes ritual atonement by personal inner repentance that is to be expressed in the individual’s conduct. I will expand on the existential inner meanings of this topic in chapter five, which discusses existential aspects of inner religious life.

The Fast as Ritual Interiorization Eliade applied the term “ritual interiorization” to ritual acts performed by means of the body as a replacement for traditional sacrifices and libations.236 As well as representing criticism of the fast as an outer rite accompanying the atonement sacrifices, the fast is regarded elsewhere in the Torah and the Prophets as an integral part of the process of repentance and atonement.237 If by the act of sacrifice the sins are, in effect, projected onto the sacrificed animal (an act of a clearly externalized nature), in the act of fasting the sinner employs personal efforts to focus on himself, in order, inter alia, to underline his acceptance of personal responsibility for his actions. Just as the destruction of the Second Temple enhanced the value of repentance as remorse and inner acceptance, it also led to a parallel rise in the significance of the fast as an inner sacrifice:238 235 T Ta‘anit 1:8 (see Tosefta, vol. 2: The Order of Mo‘ed, ed. Saul Lieberman [New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1962], 325–26). See Tosefta ki-Fshutah, part 5: Order Mo‘ed, ed. Saul Lieberman (Newark: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1992), 1072, with mention of parallels. See also BT Ta‘anit 16a. 236 See above, 72 n. 53. 237 Lev. 16:29, 31; Jonah 3:5. On the fast as effecting atonement, see Jacob Licht, “Tzom [Fast]” [Heb], in Encyclopaedia Biblica, vol. 6 (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1971), cols. 692–95. 238 In his discussion of asceticism in the world of the rabbis, Ephraim Elimelech Urbach stresses that historical factors could strengthen or decline the ascetic elements in Judaism, while admitting the existence of such elements prior to the destruction of the Second Temple (Urbach, “Ascesis and Suffering in Talmudic and Midrashic Sources” [Heb], in Yitzhak F. Baer Jubilee Volume, ed. S. W. Baron et al. [Jerusalem: Historical Society of Israel, 1960], 48–68, esp. 445–47). In contrast to Urbach, Baer argued that

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When R. Sheshet observed a fast, on completing his prayer he said: “Master of the Universe, It is known to You that when the Temple stood, if a man sinned he would bring a sacrifice, and although all that was offered of it was its fat and its blood, it atoned for him. Now I have observed a fast and my fat and my blood have diminished. May it be Your will that my fat and my blood that have diminished be accounted as if I had offered them before You on the altar, and may I be acceptable before You.”239

The fast was perceived by R. Sheshet as self-sacrifice that exceeded the worth of the regular offering of sacrifices. The individual engaging in a fast voluntarily forgoes one of his most basic instincts, and it is more difficult, inwardly, to disregard this waiver than to relinquish that which accompanies the regular sacrifice.240 the sages of the Second Temple period and the Mishnah were fundamentally inclined toward asceticism and abstinence (Yitzhak Baer, Israel among the Nations: An Essay on the History of the Period of the Second Temple and the Mishna and on the Foundations of the Halacha and Jewish Religion [Heb] [Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1955], 22). Do historical events generate spiritual changes, or do they influence already existing factors? If this asceticism existed, even latently, in the culture of the rabbis, what was its source? For differing approaches to this question, see Urbach, Sages, 1:444–48; Goldstein, “Worship in the Temple,” 193–202; Steven D. Fraade, “Ascetical Aspects of Ancient Judaism,” in Jewish Spirituality, ed. Arthur Green, vol. 1: From the Bible through the Middle Ages (New York: Crossroad, 1996), 253–88; S. Lowy, “The Motivation of Fasting in Talmudic Literature,” Journal of Jewish Studies 9 (1958): 19–38. For a current discussion on fasting and asceticism in the rabbinic culture, see Eliezer Diamond, Holy Men and Hunger Artists: Fasting and Asceticism in Rabbinic Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). 239 BT Berakhot 17a. 240 See the development of R. Sheshet’s prayer in Sabbatean circles: “May it be Your will, the Cause of all causes . . . , that by force of the diminishing of my fat and my blood that diminish in the fifty hours of two days, which are the count of the two names yudalef-heh-heh and vav-yud-heh-heh [two variants of the Tetragrammaton], with their two total sums and the sum of both together, with the numerical value of fifty, may my nefesh-ruaḥ-neshamah [each usually translated as “soul” or “spirit”] ascend to the fiftieth of the fifty gates of Binah . . .” (the version of Tikkunei Teshuvah by Nathan of Gaza, “Intent for Fast,” in the manuscript of Yemot Mashiaḥ, 175; cited by Abraham Elqayam, “The Mystery of Faith in the Writings of Nathan of Gaza” [Heb], PhD diss., [Hebrew University, 1993], 67–68. R. Sheshet’s experience of the physical loss while fasting is present in great force also in the following medieval piyyut for Yom Kippur: “My words before Thee shall be savours sweet, / O everlasting Rock; and all the waste / Of strength and body spent in this my fast / Shall seem to Thee a sacrifice complete. / Take mine heart’s prayer, which, these ten days within” (Mordechai ben Shabbetai [in trans.: Mordecai b. Sabbattai], cited by Flusser, Judaism, 42, n. 69. For English translation see Service of the Synagogue, vol. 3: Day of Atonement, Part II [London:



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The fast as waiver and affliction of the soul is directly related to the idea of atonement through suffering.241 The pinnacle of this conception in the world of the rabbis is connected to the notion of death as atonement.242 This thought gained force in the medieval period among the conceptions that created the idealization of martyrdom, beyond what had been current in the world of the rabbis. Baer noted the presence of a new spirit in Jewish martyrology in the medieval period when the leading halakhic authorities attempted to resolve it with the Talmudic law that imposed restrictions on asceticism.243 The limits on rabbinic asceticism were exceeded and extreme Routledge, 1946], 224–25). Fasting and prayer in the synagogue are perceived as a substitute for the sacrifices that were offered in the Temple. 241 “R. Nehemiah says: Tribulations are beloved, just as sacrifices appease, so, too, tribulations appease . . . furthermore, tribulations appease more than sacrifices, for sacrifices [affect] money, while tribulations [affect] the body. He also says: ‘Skin for skin—all that a man has he will give up for his life’ [Job 2:4]” (Sifre on Deuteronomy, Ve’ethanan 32, ed. Finkelstein, 57, see also the parallels he mentions. On “affliction of the soul” in the Torah, see Lev. 23:27. 242 “R. Jeremiah ben Eleazar said: . . . When a person is liable the death [penalty] for [an offense against] the Omnipresent, he keeps silent, as it is said, ‘Toward You silence is praise’ [Ps. 65:2]; and, furthermore, he offers praise, for it is stated ‘praise’; and not only this: it seems to him as if he is offering a sacrifice, for it is said, ‘vows are paid to You’ [Ps. 65:2]” (BT Eruvin 19a). See also Urbach, Sages, 1:432–36. 243 See Urbach, Sages, 1:447–48. The rabbis’ complex attitude to mortifications and fasts emerges from the Talmudic discussion of fasting: “Samuel said: Whoever fasts is called a sinner” (BT Ta‘anit 11a-b). The Talmud compares Samuel’s unequivocal stand against fasting with a baraita in the name of R. Eleazar ha-Kappar. Going beyond the view of Samuel, R. Eleazar ha-Kappar deems any ascetic act a sin. The Talmud then brings another dictum attributed to R. Eleazar that the Talmudic redactors perceive as contradicting the first dictum by R. Eleazar ha-Kappar and an additional (third) dictum by R. Eleazar that negates fasting: “A person should always consider himself as if the Holy One dwells within him” (see also below, the following page). The attempt by the redactors of the Talmud to reconcile the contradictory views of the rabbis is of great importance for understanding later Jewish views regarding asceticism. According to the redactors, R. Eleazar’s opposition to fasts is not absolute. Rather, he refers to the inner state of the individual engaged in a fast: “This is not a contradiction, one speaks of a person who is able to bear self-affliction, and the other, of one who is not able.” When a fast is accompanied by mental suffering, it is invalid, but when a fast is conducted without causing suffering to a person’s psyche, then it is positive. The positive fast is observed without paying attention to the bodily affliction. The Talmud does not explain the purpose of self-afflictions that are not sensed as such. In my opinion, the explanation is provided by Rashi’s commentary to Resh Lakish’s dictum by in the same Talmudic passage: “Resh Lakish says, He is called ‘pious [ḥasid],’ for it is said, ‘A kindly [ḥesed] man weans [gomel] himself, a cruel man makes trouble for himself ’ [Prov. 11:17].” Rashi writes: “The one engaging in a fast: as it is written, ‘A kindly man weans himself ’—he separates himself from food and drink, as on the day

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asceticism entered the Jewish communities in Ashkenaz (the medieval Franco-German center).244 This culture and its derivatives in the repentance methods of the sages of Ashkenaz and medieval Poland were examined in detail by Elbaum in his book Repentance and Self-Flagellation.245

The Replacement of the Sacrifice by Sacred Eating “R. Johanan and R. Eleazar both said: While the Temple still stood the altar would atone for a person, but now that the Temple no longer stands a person’s table atones for him.”246 The transformation of eating in general—and especially that of eating on Sabbaths and holidays—into a sacred act capable of atoning for a person’s transgressions no less than the atonement by sacrifices247 reflects an orientation opposite to that of the asceticism discussed above. Similar to asceticism, the sanctity of eating, was based on the substitution of the traditional rite by physiological activities. Unlike, however, asceticism’s negative attitude to the body, the sanctity of eating means the mandating and sanctification of eating, exctly because it maintains the body. The dicta cited in the name of R. Eleazar in Ta‘anit, further to the discussion of Samuel’s dictum that “whoever fasts is called a

Isaac was weaned [Gen. 21], sevrer in Old French. From my teacher, alternatively, gomel is the language of tigmul [recompense], for he pays his life to his Maker. ‘A cruel man makes trouble’—the one who engages in a fast and denies his flesh is called cruel.” Resh Lakish expounds the verse in Proverbs as referring to the person himself. According to Resh Lakish, this verse denounces the person who is cruel to his flesh, that is, who denies the flesh of his body, and praises the one who nourishes himself, portraying him as one who acts kindly towards himself. Rashi’s commentary was inspired by the Talmud’s effort to resolve the two contradictory dicta of R. Eleazar. Rashi found it difficult to completely negate fasting, so he preferred to reject the fast that is accompanied by an improper inner intent. For the one who fasts with positive intent, to be weaned of his dependence on food like an infant who is weaned from his mother’s breast, this affliction is like a kindness for his soul, which is released from the bonds of the material. However, if a person fasts with negative intent, to deny his body, his action is disapproved. 244 Yitzhak Baer, “Introduction,” in A. M. Habermann, The Persecutions of Germany and France: Memoirs by Those from the Generations of the Crusades and a Selection of Their Poems [Heb] (Jerusalem: Tarshish, 1945), 2. See Abraham ben Azriel, Arugat ha-Bosem, ed. Ephraim Elimelech Urbach, vol. 1 (Jerusalem: Mekize Nirdamim, 1939–1963), 222. 245 Jacob Elbaum, Repentance and Self-Flagellation in the Writings of the Sages of Germany and Poland 1348–1648 [Heb] (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1993), esp. 152–76. 246 BT Menahot 97a. 247 See BT Shabbat 118a–b.



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sinner”248 reveal the conceptual foundations on which the position of R. Johanan and R. Eleazar is based. “A person should always consider himself as if the Holy One dwells within him, as it is said, ‘’The Holy One in your midst: I will not come be-ir [Hos. 11:9].”249 In the original verse in Hosea, the wording “the Holy One in your midst” refers to God dwelling amongst His people. Despite Israel’s sins, God’s mercy will overcome His fury and He will cause Himself to dwell among the people to prevent the destruction of Ephraim.250 R. Eleazar expounds “the holy (one) among you” as referring to man:251 “the holy among you” = the holy that is within man.252 And as the Tosafists interpreted this: “As if the holy is within his innards—the Holy One, blessed be He.”253 In light of the continuation of the discussion in the Talmud, and as is indicated by Rashi’s commentary, this dictum patently forbids fasting, since denying the body means harming the Holy One, blessed be He, who dwells within man. In opposition to the ascetic trends that view eating as a necessity that is to be limited to the greatest extent possible, this dictum expresses the contrary, and regards eating as a holy act.254 248 BT Ta‘anit 11a–b. 249 Ibid. 250 The later commentary commonly understands the phrase “I will not come be-ir [literally, in the city],” identifying ir with ar (enemy, adversary), similar to the meaning of this wording in I Sam. 28:16; Jer. 15:8; Ps. 137:7; 139:20. Cf. R. Nahman’s wonder in Ta‘anit 5a, when he asks R. Isaac about the meaning of this verse: “Because the Holy One is in your midst I shall not come into the city?” R. Johanan replied: “I will not enter the heavenly Jerusalem until I enter the earthly Jerusalem.” That is, R. Johanan understood the words “the Holy One in your midst” as referring to the building of the earthly Jerusalem and the renewal of the Temple, which means the return of the Holy One, blessed be He, to the city and the people. 251 A later manifestation of this conception, not specifically within the context of the sanctification of eating, was set forth by R. Eleazar Azikri in Milei de-Shemaya, para. 87 (see chapter four, 313, below). On this teaching as reflecting potential and not a given situation, see Milei de-Shemaya by R. Eleazar Azikri, ed. M. Pachter (Tel Aviv: Mifalim Universitayim, 1991), 80–81. 252 On the ideational basis for this conception in Hillel, R. Akiva, and R. Meir’s understanding of creation in the image of God, see below, chapter four, the discussion on the interiorization of the myth of creation in the divine image in rabbinic teachings (286–90.) 253 The interpretation of Tosafot emphasizes that this is the intent of the teaching, in opposition to Rashi’s interpretation, which blurs the materializing nature of the dictum, apparently in the spirit of the corruption in MS. Munich: “R. Eleazar said: A person should always comport himself as if the holy dwells within him.” See the proposal by Lorberbaum, Image of God, 313 n. 118. 254 Lorberbaum joins this dictum with other midrashic sources that are attributed to Hillel and that he maintains express the iconic relationship between man and his Creator.

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Just as the sacrifice that ascends to heaven is “an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord,” so too, the food that a person eats nourishes the divine within him. This notion is expressed in Hillel’s stance in the narrative of Hillel and Shammai in Tractate Betzah: It was taught: They said of Shammai the Elder that all his life he ate in honor of the Sabbath. If he found an admirable animal, He said, “This is for the Sabbath.” If he found another more excellent, he put aside the second for the Sabbath and ate the first. Hillel the Elder, however, had a different trait, for all his actions were for the sake of Heaven, as it is said, “Blessed be the Lord, day by day” [Ps. 68:20].255

As Lorberbaum showed, Hillel’s eating “for the sake of Heaven” meant it was “for the sake of the commandment,” that is, for God’s sake.256 Hillel considered every act of eating to be a religious act of maintaining the divine presence in the body and soul of a person who was created in the image of God. The sanctity of eating, that apparently has its roots in the Biblical sacred meals,257 was expressed in the world of the rabbis in various aspects of the sanctification of food and especially in their institution of Kiddush over wine and the seudot mitzvah [religiously ordained meals] on Sabbath and holiday. The idea of the sanctity of eating was developed in singular fashion in Kabbalistic literature by its incorporation with new Kabbalistic notions. In Shenei Luḥot ha-Berit R. Isaiah Horowitz combines the writings of the schools of R. Moses Cordovero and R. Isaac Luria on this topic: It is written in Re’shit Ḥokhmah that the spirit from the aspect of sanctity and purity rests on the food from permitted things that is eaten for Heaven’s sake. (The intent is that man’s creation in the image of God teaches that God’s likeness is reflected in man’s form and likeness, and therefore is present in man.) According to Lorberbaum, the dicta by Hillel referring to the worship of the figures of kings, especially that related in Avot de-Rabbi Nathan, version B, chap. 30 (trans.: Danby, The Mishnah, 179), presume such a relationship between God and man; see Lorberbaum, Image of God, 313–14, and his entire discussion in chap. 6 (“Image, Representation, and Presence,” in both the Hebrew and English editions). Alternately, this dictum could be understood as reflecting a Stoic conception, that food sustains the divine soul that is present within man. (Cf. these notions with Bynum’s discussion in her essay on holy feasts in Christianity: Bynum, Holy Feast, 73–112.) 255 BT Betzah 16a. 256 Lorberbaum, Image of God, 312–14. 257 See I Sam. 9:12–24.



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The soul derives benefit from that eating from the aspect of sanctity within it, and this is “the righteous man eats to his soul’s content” [Prov. 13:25]. For according to its simple meaning, it is difficult: what is his soul’s content, since the soul is spiritual. Rather, the matter is this: eating itself has an aspect of sanctity, and the soul is satiated from that aspect of sanctity.258 I found this better explained in the name of the godly R. Isaac Luria, of blessed memory, who interpreted the verse “man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that comes from the mouth of the Lord” [Deut. 8:3].259 Philosophers already investigated to learn the connection of the soul to the body in eating, and whether the soul itself can eat. But they could not discover the reason. The above-mentioned rabbi, of blessed memory, however, said that you have nothing that does not have an aspect of sanctity, as the Rabbis, of blessed memory said, “There is no type of vegetation below that does not have a mazal [= guardian angel] that strikes it and says, ‘Grow!’” [see Gen. Rabbah 10:6]. The intent is to the influential power that comes from above, as it is said, “declares the Lord—I will respond to the sky, and it shall respond to the earth” [Hos. 2:23]. Consequently, every food in the world is a mixture of body and soul. The revealed food is the body, and the sanctity of the influence from above that strikes it, to say, “Grow!,” this is its soul. And when a person eats it, then by the eating, his body and soul remain connected, for the soul derives benefit from the soul of the food, and the body, from the body [of the food]. As for what was said, “that man does not live on bread alone” [Deut. 8:3], this means that man does not live on the bread that is revealed to us, for what benefit would there be to the soul from this, rather, “that man [may live] on anything that the Lord decrees” [Deut. 8:3], that is, bread is what the Lord decrees, that is, the influence that strikes it and says to it that it come forth and grow—by this man lives. And this interpretation is a wondrous interpretation.260

258 De-Vidas, Reshit Ḥokhmah, Sha‘ar ha-Kedushah 15:2–3, ed. Waldman, 375. 259 Vital, Likkutei Torah, Ta‘amei ha-Mitzvot, Ekev, 240–50: “For the vitality of the soul does not come from food, ‘that man may live on anything that comes from the mouth of the Lord’ [Deut. 8:3]; the blessing that he brings forth with his mouth brings forth the holy sparks from the impurity, and is sifted by the mouth of the Lord by the chewing of lamed-bet [= 32; also spelling lev = heart], which are the lev of God, lamed-bet [= 32] paths” (247). 260 Isaiah Horowitz, Shenei Luḥot ha-Berit (n.p., 1963), Sha‘ar ha-Otiyot, Ot Kuf: Kedushah, fol. 54 col. a. See also the copying of the passage in Elijah ben Abraham Solomon Ha-Kohen, Sefer Shevet Musar (Jerusalem, 1975), chap. 36, 290–91.

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By juxtaposing R. Moses Cordovero’s conception of the sanctity of eating with R. Isaac Luria’s original thought on this theme, the author of Shenei Luḥot ha-Berit laid the groundwork for a broader synthesis of the thinking of the two on the sanctity of eating that characterized the way of the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples. As Ronit Meroz has shown, what Horowitz cites in the name of Luria is an exposition that an unknown student of Luria by the name of R. Joseph Don Don heard and was included in the Likkutim of Ephraim Penzieri.261 According to this student, Luria said: For a person effects tikkun [supernal rectification] in all that he does, even in eating. One should not think that the Holy One, blessed be He, wants a person to eat in this world for the benefit of his body and to fill his stomach, rather, this is to effect tikkun. For when Adam mixed good and evil, everything was spoiled, even the stones and the vegetation. This mingling is that the sparks of holiness were intermingled in the entire world, even in the inanimate, as it is said, “Cursed be the ground because of you” (Gen. 3:17). The Holy One, blessed be He, according ordered in His world that the vegetation would come forth from the inanimate, and the animals will be sustained from the vegetation by eating it, and when an animal is eaten by man it is spiritualized. The sparks that were lost at the time of Adam return to him on these levels. Therefore, by eating he gains and adds power to his soul. . . . Man, who is of the first level, close to the Lord, may He be blessed, has a living soul, as it is said, “you who held fast” [Deut. 4:4], etc. If a person conducts himself in piety, and fulfills all the Torah and the commandments, when he dies he will ascend to a superior level and he will rise higher. If, Heaven forbid, the opposite will be the case, and he will engage in bestial actions, and follow eating and fornication, when this man dies he will return to his [base] element, and his soul will enter an animal. If he will be more evil he will descend to the vegetation, if he will be even more evil, to the inanimate. Another person who is close to him [i.e., whose souls are close], who has affinity with his soul, rectifies him and extricates him from these straits, either from the vegetation or from the animal, in which he is imprisoned.262

261 See Ronit Meroz, “Selections from Ephraim Penzieri: Luria’s Sermon in Jerusalem and the Kawanah in Taking Food” [Heb], Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 10 (1992): 214–16, for additional details regarding R. Joseph Don Don. 262 Meroz, “Penzieri,” 247, 250. In this article Meroz surveys the Kabbalistic building blocks from which R. Isaac Luria wove his original conception.



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According to a tradition of the rabbis of Komarno Hasidism, the Lurianic conception of the elevation of the sparks has its basis in a story about R. Moses Galante, a disciple of Luria: I heard from my lord, my father, my teacher, my master, may his remembrance be for the World to Come, that this story is brought in holy books, that the holy rabbi, the righteous one, our master, the rabbi, R. M[oses] Galante, was exceedingly wealthy. Once he came before the Ari [= R. Isaac Luria], may his remembrance be for the World to Come, and he asked him why [his soul] had come to this world, and what rectification he must perform. The Ari replied, You came in this incarnation to raise the holy sparks that were left for you to rectify from an incarnation preceding this one. For then, too, you were a Torah scholar, but you engaged in several mortifications, and you ate only a tiny bit, and you had to eat much then, for you had many sparks to rectify, in accordance with the root of your soul that your soul had to rectify. But you did not want to eat so much. Accordingly, after you had ascended from the previous incarnation to this higher [incarnation], all those sparks came and brought suit against you in the Heavenly Court, why did you leave them without rectification. The Heavenly Court ruled that you must come to this world again in another reincarnation, and you would be extremely wealthy, so that you could bring all the sparks to you by eating and drinking. This is your rectification, that you will take delight in good foods, in sanctity and purity.263

The thought of R. Elijah de De-Vidas, a disciple of R. Moses Cordovero and the author of Re’shit Ḥokhmah, gives prominence to the possibility of a person attaining sanctity in his lifetime by sacred eating, independent of the idea of the holy sparks, and certainly independent of the belief in gilgul [transmigration]. In contrast, in an exposition cited in the name of R. Isaac Luria, the purpose of elevating the sparks is to release a person from transmigration in the lower worlds. The sparks of holiness that were dispersed throughout the world due to Adam’s sin long for their rectification by being raised from their captivity in the turbid material world. The Lurianic conception, despite the objection to mortifications that might be learned from the story of R. Moses Galante, is more dualistic; while the thought of R.

263 Eliezer Zvi (Safrin) of Komarno, Zkan Beto al Pirkei Avot (Jerusalem, 1973), Ofen Yad, 175. (My thanks to Prof. Moshe Idel for drawing my attention to this source.)

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Moses Cordovero tends to view the presence of holiness in the material as the realization of the purpose of the holy. Hasidism created a unique synthesis of these two approaches. The Lurianic notion of tikkun by the elevation of the sparks was directed, under the influence of the writings of Cordovero’s disciples, to the inner arena within man. In Hasidism, the elevation of the sparks during eating is an inner thought process that occurs then and enables the realization of the Hasidic ideal of “In all your ways acknowledge Him” (Prov. 3:6).264 Hasidism expanded R. Isaac Luria’s wondrous idea (as Horowitz portrayed it) by relating it to the very act of eating with intent, which was perceived as enabling connection with the godly sparks and reinforcing the spiritualgodly within man that resides in the physical. The Hasid is given the difficult task of directing his thought while eating to the presence of the holy sparks, the kernels of vitality in the food, and in this manner to connect with them. The Hasid, by means of his intent while eating, thereby rectifies the damages caused by Adam’s sin that led to the separation of the physical from the spiritual. Hasidic literature frequently cites the passage concerning eating from the commentary to Ps. 107 attributed to the Baal Shem Tov:265 “Hungry and thirsty, their spirit failed” [Ps. 107:5]—The interpretation: there is a great and awesome secret here, which is, why did the Holy One, blessed be He, create matters of food and drink that a person desires to eat and drink? The reason is that they are actually sparks of Adam, that are enclothed in the inanimate, the vegetative, the living, and the speaking [= man], and they long to adhere to holiness. They arouse the female waters in this secret, no drop descends from above without two drops correspondingly ascending from below. Every food and drink that a person eats and drinks is really part of his sparks, that he is to rectify.266

The act of eating with the proper intent is, in practice, coupling, by an awareness of the sanctity in the food with the aggregate sanctity in a person. This redeems the sparks from their captivity, that is, from their distance 264 See Margolin, Human Temple, 231–42; Tsippi Kaufmann, In All Your Ways Know Him: The Concept of God and Avodah be-Gashmiyut in the Early Stages of Hasidism [Heb] (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University, 2009), 165–392. 265 Margolin, Human Temple, 293 n. 22. 266 Israel Baal Shem Tov, Ba‘al Shem Tov al ha-Torah, vol. 2, ed. Szymon Menahem Mendel Wodnik (Jerusalem, n.d.), 45. See also Keter Shem Tov hashalem (Brooklyn: Kehot Publication Society, 2004), 110.



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from the source of holiness. Hasidic interpretation strikingly emphasizes the inner process, which imparts to eating as well as other material matters, the nature of a religious intellective effort. The process of ritual interiorization is meant to gradually encompass all everyday activities. R. Levi Isaac of Berdichev explains this notion by using de Vidas’s distinction between two types of sanctity:267 For the main thing in a person’s eating is that he must think that he has to have strength for the service of the Creator, may He be blessed, in Torah and prayer. Accordingly, this eating itself is [divine] service, since it is for the purpose of this service. In truth, however, at any rate while eating he does not worship the Lord, and this eating is of benefit only afterwards, when he engages in study. But there are tzaddiqim who eat in sanctity, and while eating have holy thoughts and speak Torah during their eating. Therefore, while eating he serves the Creator, may He be blessed, and this is called “eating.” This is not so regarding the former state, while eating this is not called “eating,” since he did not act [in sanctity] at the time, but only after the action [of eating].268

In another passage, R. Levi Isaac explains the meaning of the elevation of the holy sparks: When you desire to eat and drink, or [engage in] any other of this world’s desires, and your intent is to love of Him, may He be blessed, then you elevate the material desire to the spiritual desire, and by this you sift the holy spark that is in this food or in other things. . . . This is the secret of [the blessing] “Who brings forth bread from the earth” [recited before eating bread], for “bread” alludes to the sanctity by the secret of bread [lehem], which is 3 Names of God [i.e., the numerical value of lehem, 78 = 3 X 26, the numerical value of the Tetragrammaton], and “earth” alludes to earthliness and materiality. The person brings forth bread, that is, the holy sparks, from the earth—from earthliness and from the outer realms [i.e., those belonging to the domain of evil]. Consequently, when a person acts in this way, he shows the fierce and tremendous love that he has for Him, may He be blessed. There is no greater way than this wherever a person goes and whatever he 267 De-Vidas, Reshit Ḥokhmah, Sha‘ar ha-Kedushah 4:21, ed. Waldman, 53. See Margolin, Human Temple, 148–50. 268 Levi Isaac of Berdichev, Kedushat Levi ha-Shalem (Jerusalem, Urbach 1978), Likkutim, 287–88.

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does; even in external things in this world he worships his Creator, may He be blessed.269

Eating in sanctity usually refers to religiously mandated holy meals, such as Sabbath and holiday meals, while Hasidism expanded this to include everyday eating as well. Not only did Hasidism demand intent, in the most profound sense of the word, in the performance of all the commandments, it expanded the intentional element to everyday material life. The Hasidic ideal connected thought in every situation to the godly that vivifies all. By means of inner thought, man connects with God and by imparting godly spiritual meaning to material reality, he redeems matter and elevates both reality and himself. The existential meaning of avodah be-gashmiyut [the worship of God through corporeality] will be discussed at length at the end of chapter five.

Kabbalistic Ritual Interiorization as Manifesting God in Man and as the Way of His Rectification Tikkun 70, which concludes Tikkunei ha-Zohar, is one of the most important sources for the conception of the observance of the commandments as manifesting God in man and as the way of his rectification, which was discussed extensively by the early Hasidic masters:270 With each and every limb (which is a lamp for every commandment) a person must proclaim the kingship of the Holy One, blessed be He, and prepare for Him a pure and clean place in which to dwell. To this end a person must eliminate from himself, from each and every limb, all bad thoughts and fleeting notions of filths that are kelipot [husks], and he must burn them by all the good commandments that rest on each and every limb, that are lamps. . . . For every commandment is called a lamp, which is the meaning of what is written, “For the commandment is a lamp” [Prov. 6:23], “The soul of man is the lamp of the Lord” [Prov. 20:27]. . . . For every commandment that rests on each and every limb has a known name. And all the hosts and camps of angels that derive from it all gather to that limb and they protect it from every scourge. If anyone exchanges them or summons them to a limb other 269 Ibid., Vayeshev, 61. 270 See, for example, Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye, Toledot Ya‘akov Yosef (Jerusalem: Agudat Beit Wilyafili, 1973), Terumah, para. 2, 234–36. For a discussion of this teaching, see Margolin, Human Temple, 325–27.



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than theirs, and for which they are not responsible, he denies the order of Creation and they do not gather to him. [This is comparable to] a king who appointed officials over his kingdom, and designated them for each place. He said to them, “You will be responsible for such-and-such a place, and you, such-and-such.” He designated him for a known place, and for a known thing. No other place can be substituted for him. But the Holy One, blessed be He, whose rule is everywhere, like the soul that rules over each and every limb, “His presence fills all the earth” [Isa. 6:3], every place where a person calls Him, He responds. But if the place of that limb is flawed by a sin committed by the person, the Holy One, blessed be He, does not dwell in that limb, of which it is said, “No man at all who has a defect shall approach” [Lev. 21:18].271

The author of Tikkunei ha-Zohar breaks new ground in the perception of the performance of the commandments. Since a person’s limbs are compared to the image of God, the way to rectify them is by means of the commandments which cause God to dwell within man. The midrash learns by analogy from the two verses in Proverbs, which compare the lamp to the commandment and man’s soul that the commandment is man’s soul, that is, the godly essence itself. Since in Zoharic thought the soul in the body is as God in the world,272 the performance of any commandment proclaims God’s kingship, introduces His presence, and in the wording of Tikkunei ha-Zohar, His dwelling, or manifesting, in man. The Mishnah asks, “Why does the section ‘Hear, O Israel’ [Deut. 6:4-] precede ‘And it shall come to pass if ye shall hearken’ [Deut. 11:13-]?—so that a man may first take upon him the yoke of the kingdom of heaven and afterward take upon him the yoke of the commandments” (M Berakhot 2:2).273 According to Tikkun 70 there is no longer any room for such a separation, since each commandment is an actual coronation—introducing the godly presence in the human body, and not merely the acceptance of the yoke of the kingdom of heaven. The dictum of R. Simlai—“Six hundred and thirteen commandments were related to Moses, three hundred and sixty-five prohibitions, corresponding to the number of solar days [in the year], and two hundred and forty-eight positive commandments, corresponding to a person’s limbs” (BT Makkot 23b)—now assumes a new meaning. The commandments are performed 271 Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 70, fol. 130b. 272 See below, chapter four, 304–5. 273 Trans.: Danby, The Mishnah, 3. See Knohl, “Accepting the Kingdom of Heaven.”

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by the limbs and through them rectify the sins committed by these very limbs. These sins threaten to blemish the godly presence in man, a presence indicated by the verse “His presence fills all the earth.” That is, His presence is in man, just as it is in the world. By his flawed behavior man banishes the godliness within him. The commission of the commandments effects rectification, the removal of the flaw, and its replacement by the constantly renewed act of coronation. The performance of the commandments is a continual act of prayer. In every such act man calls upon God to dwell within him, to which God, who is present in all, responds. Man, by sinning, removes God from himself, and by the commission of a commandment he “brings” God closer to him. The perception of Torah and commandments as a means of attaining devotion, which is characteristic of the teachings of the early Hasidic masters, apparently is based on the thought developed in Tikkun 70:274 All of a person’s limbs are arranged by the order of Creation, and because of this a person is called a small world. And whoever proclaims the kingship of the Holy One, blessed be He, over each and every limb is as if he proclaims His kingship over the whole world. The reward of the person who declares His kingship over each and every limb may not be revealed. For these are the reasons for the commandments, which may not be revealed, so that a person would not worship the Holy One, blessed be He, for the sake of receiving a reward. But my son, let these things that need not be revealed be concealed in your heart; of them it is said “that they may eat their fill and clothe themselves elegantly” [Isa. 23:18]. Let the elegant things that were not given over to be revealed be concealed in your heart. Come see, when a person engarbs himself in the cloak of a commandment, puts on tefilin, and reads the Reading of the Shema, then he prepares for himself a throne in the engarbing of the commandment, and he establishes it: “And a throne shall be established in goodness” [Isa. 16:5]. And with tefilin he adorns it, this is the meaning of what is written, “Put on your turban” [Ezek. 24:17]. And he reads a verse for Him to rest on the throne that he prepared with “Hear, O Israel.” Thus the Holy One, blessed be He, prepares for Himself in that world a throne and a crown. And just as he brings Him down there [i.e., in this world], it stands because of him, and he proclaims His kingship over each and every limb of his, so too, for the Holy One, blessed be He: he makes for Himself in the world a throne and royal 274 See the extensive discussion in Margolin, Human Temple, 288–342.



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crown, and proclaims His kingship over all the angels [textual variant: hosts] and camps there. This is the meaning of what is written, “They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky” [Gen. 1:26]. This is the esoteric meaning of the matter: “I honor those who honor Me, but those who spurn Me shall be dishonored” [I Sam. 2:30].275

The Zoharic text concludes from the midrashic statements about man being a small world276 that the perception of the commandments as proclaiming God’s kingship and introducing His presence in man is the same as proclaiming God’s kingship in the world. Since, in the world of the Zohar, “the awakening below results in the awakening above,”277 any performance of a commandment is a theurgic act that intensifies the divine presence in the earthly realm and arouses that presence in the supernal orbs. The theurgic reasons for the commandments are a great secret, in which great danger is inherent. One who knows the secret could easily fall to the level of one who worships not for its own sake. Such a one could become haughty and lose all. The concealment in the heart proposed by the author of Tikkunei ha-Zohar is manifestly paradoxical: know, although it is preferable not to know. This situation cannot be resolved, for if this secret is not made explicit, a person will lose the profound, fundamental reason for performing the commandments and he will sink in the passive conception of the one “who is commanded and does.” This passivity is a common cause of a lack of vitality in the observance of the commandments and their rote performance. Vitality and power are inherent in Kabbalistic reasons for the commandments. The commandments infuse the religious rite with substantive meaning by their interiorization, which imparts personal inner meaning to each action. In this conception the notion of imitatio Dei, which is most prominently expressed in the world of the rabbis by Abba Saul’s dictum: “Be like Him: just as He is gracious and merciful, so be 275 Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 70, fol. 130b. 276 On man as a microcosm, and the world as a macroanthropos, see M. Stein, “Mother Earth in Old Hebrew Literature” [Heb], Tarbiz 9 (1938): 257–77. This notion originated in Plato, Timaeus 44–46. For English translation, see Plato, Timaeus, trans. R. G. Bury, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 234 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1942), 96–107. Its central expressions in the midrashic literature appear in Avot de-Rabbi Nathan, version A, chap. 31; Tanḥuma, Pekudei 3; Eccl. Rabbah 1:4; Midrash Tehillim (Schocher Tov) 19:1, ed. Salomon Buber (Vilna: Romm, 1891), 163; Yalkut Tehillim 672. See also Adolph Jellinek, Bet ha-Midrasch, section 5, Aggadat Olam Katan (Jerusalem: Bamberger & Wahrmann, 1938), 57–59. 277 Zohar, 1:88a.

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thou also gracious and merciful,”278 became much broader and more meaningful. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, created the world for Him to dwell in, thus man, by performing the 248 positive commandments (which correspond to his 248 limbs), prepares a throne for Him within his body and enables Him to dwell within. The daring idea of man as temple, which was cautiously formulated by R. Moses Alshekh in his commentary to the verse “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exod. 25:8),279 was transformed in Hasidism into the idea of the tzaddiq, while fundamentally assuming that every Jew could become a human temple by observing the commandments.280 The depth of this idea’s influence on Hasidic thought is attested by the following attack by R. Elimelech of Lyzhansk concerning a phenomenon that had spread within the Hasidic public, namely, exaggerated movements during prayer or the performance of ritual commandments that were not spontaneous, but rather imitative, born of social motives: “Do not turn to idols” [Lev. 19:4]—the Talmud states, “[How is that taught? R. Hanin said:] Do not turn out God from your own mind” [BT Shabbat 149a]. It seems that their interpretation [was based] on what was written in books, that the soul rests in every limb or movement with which a person performs a commandment or holy matter. Then the soul rests in that limb, and when the soul rests in that limb, then the limb moves by force of it, and by force of it the movement is seen externally. This varies by person, according to his actions, which are his movements. For this reason, the movements of the tzaddiqim are sweet and good to those who see them, for the movement is by force of the soul, and the soul is part of God above, and all good is in this. To the contrary, when a person does [i.e., imitates] the movements of his fellow, no person’s [soul] receives [this godly part], because it is not his [movement], his soul was not in that limb when he made that movement, and it is without sanctity; it is, Heaven forbid, like idolatry, for he makes a movement that is not part of the godly, but rather because he liked the movement that he saw from his fellow and it found favor in his eyes. This one does not know that this was due to the godly part that rests in 278 Mekhilta d’Rabbi Ismael, Shirata 3, on Exod. 15:2, ed. H. S. Horovitz and I. A. Rabin (Frankfurt, 1931), 127. For English translation, see Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, trans. Jacob Z. Lauterbach, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1976), 25. 279 Moses Alshekh, Torat Moshe, Terumah (Warsaw, 1861), fol. 148a. 280 See Margolin, Human Temple, 127–38.



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the limb. This is why the taste of the movement is sweet and it finds favor in his eyes. But this is not because of the movement itself, but rather by force of the soul that rests in it; he does everything without comprehension and without intent, rather because of the beauty of the movement. Consequently, he worships the movement, and makes the limb that does the movement as a molten image, to worship that limb. This is the meaning of “Do not turn to idols—do not turn to what is conceived in your own mind, etc.” For your godliness that God apportioned to You in His mercy is the holy soul, do not turn out from yourselves: “Do not make molten gods [masekhah] for yourselves” [Lev. 19:4]—this means, do not make yourselves as a mask [masekhah] with false motions that do not possess godly vitality, but rather conceive them in your own minds and with [your] intent. This is “I am the Lord your God”—that is, by force of the godliness which is the holy soul that rests within you.281

This passage is reminiscent of the statement by R. Phinehas of Koretz that “when a person’s arms go up by themselves during prayer, this is a sign that his prayer is heard and accepted.”282 Spontaneous movements of this type were deemed by the early Hasidic masters as signifying the divinity that is present in man. R. Elimelech struggled against the vacuous mimicry that stems from the conscious desire to impress with behavior perceived by the Hasidim as reflecting a high level of spirituality. A worshiper who adopts the tzaddiq’s movements while praying, by merely imitating them is comparable to an idolater. The thought of a true servant of the Lord is concentrated solely on the Lord and his movements come from his inwardness with no outer intention to impress other worshipers.

Observing the Torah before It Was Given, as Ritual Interiorization The Mishnah in Tractate Kiddushin declares: “We find that Abraham our father had performed the whole Law before it was given, for it is written ‘Because that Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws’ [Gen. 26:5].”283 This concept is formulated in Tractate Yoma as follows: “[Rav] or R. Ashi said: Abraham our father kept even the law of eruvei tavshilin [the procedure permitting preparation on 281 Elimelech of Lyzhansk, Noam Elimelekh, Kedoshim, 123. 282 Phinehas of Koretz, Imrei Pinḥas (Ramat Gan, 1988), 1:106, 61. 283 M Kiddushin 4:14.

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a Festival of food to be consumed on the immediately following Sabbath], as it is said, ‘My Torahs’ [Gen. 26:5]—one being the written Torah, and the other, the oral Torah.”284 It seems that Rav was not troubled by the question of how the Patriarchs were familiar with the Torah before it was given.285 Beyond the general tendency of the aggadic midrashim to portray Biblical characters in the prism of the world of the rabbis, which is evident in this midrash, as well, we also have here an echo of another midrash relating to Abraham: “A father did not teach him, he did not have a teacher, whence did he learn the Torah? . . . R. Levi said: From himself he learned Torah.”286 Unlike the rabbis, the medieval sages were troubled by the problematic nature of the verse, since observance of the Torah, which was given later to Moses, could not be attributed to the earlier Abraham. They accordingly interpreted the mishnah in Kiddushin differently. R. David Kimhi and Ibn Ezra did not accept the opinion of Rav in Yoma. In his commentary to Gen. 26:5, Ibn Ezra explains: Mishmarti (my charge) is a general term for all that Abraham was obliged to observe from the commandments (mitzvot), statutes (chukkim) and laws (torot). It is possible that the commandments spoken of in our verse refer to “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred” etc. (Gen. 12:1), and “Take now thy son . . . even Isaac . . . and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains” etc. (Gen. 22:2). The statutes spoken of in our text pertain to the works of God that a man should uphold. These statutes are based on logic. I will elaborate on this term (chukkim) in my comments on the verse dealing with the prohibition of wearing “a garment of two kinds of stuff mingled together” (Lev. 19:19). These laws are implanted in the heart. The torot (laws) mentioned in our verse relate to Abraham’s circumcision of himself, his children and his servants.287 284 BT Yoma 28b; see also Gen. Rabbah 65:5; Midrash Tehillim 1:13, ed. Buber, 13. For a detailed discussion of the evolution of this dictum in Jewish thought, see Arthur Green, Devotion and Commandment: The Faith of Abraham in the Hasidic Imagination (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1989). 285 Rav apparently applied here the principle that there is no chronological order in the Torah. See the view of Urbach, Sages, 1:318–20; and the opposing opinion of Green, Devotion and Commandment, 31. 286 Gen. Rabbah 61:1; 95:3. On the correspondence of this dictum’s praise of autodidactism to the praise heaped on autodidactism in antiquity, see Elimelech Epstein Halevi, The World of the Aggadah [Heb] (Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1972), 71–72. 287 English translation based on Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra, Ibn Ezra’s Commentary on the Pentateuch, vol. 1: Genesis, trans. H. N. Strickman and A. M. Silver (New York:



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And in his commentary on the passage on kila’im [forbidden mixtures] (Lev. 19:19) he writes: “I will hint to you here at a secret. Know that ‘the complete is very complete.’ Scripture therefore says with regard to Abraham, ‘and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws’ (Gen. 26:5).”288 Unlike Rashi, who argued that “these laws are a decree of the King, with no [rational] reason,”289 Ibn Ezra implies that “law” [hok] is a matter of perfection. In his explanation of the meaning of the law of forbidden mixtures, Ibn Ezra, in opposition to the claim that the hukim are inexplicable decrees, maintains that they have a known reason. The aim of the prohibition of forbidden mixtures is “each species is to be preserved. A kind is not to interbreed with another kind” (commentary to Lev. 19:19),290 in order to preserve the perfection of the original divine Creation: “you must also not do anything to an animal which entails changing God’s work.”291 In his commentary to “Noah was a man righteous and whole-hearted” (Gen. 6:9), he presents the distinction: “’A man righteous’—in his deeds”; “And whole-hearted’—In his heart,”292 to which R. Solomon ben Eliezer Lippman Cohen of Lissa writes in his Avi Ezer supercommentary on Ibn Ezra for this verse: “The rabbi said: righteous in his deeds before all, blameless in his heart, in secret.” That is, for Ibn Ezra, hukim in general, and specifically the law of forbidden mixtures, come to emphasize the perfection of the commanded act, that is conditional on the unification of the external act with the inner thought and intent of the one who is commanded (as he puts it: “the laws implanted in the heart”). The essence of the hukim is the inner will not to harm the order of Creation. It may be concluded from this that, according to Ibn Ezra, Abraham observed the commandments which he had been mandated and those that he understood with his own intellect, all of which he observed fully.293 Menorah, 1988), 255. 288 English translation based on Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra, Ibn Ezra’s Commentary on the Pentateuch, vol. 3: Leviticus, trans. H. N. Strickman and A. M. Silver (New York: Menorah, 2004), 162–63. 289 Rashi, commentary to Lev. 19:19. 290 English translation based on Ibn Ezra, Ibn Ezra’s Commentary on the Pentateuch, vol. 3: Leviticus, 162. 291 Ibid. 292 English translation based on Ibn Ezra, Ibn Ezra’s Commentary on the Pentateuch, vol. 1: Genesis, 98 293 “Note that all of the commandments fall into one of the following two categories. One category consists of rational laws which God implanted into the minds of all intelligent human beings. There are many such commandments. The only one of the

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Nahmanides argues in his commentary to Gen. 26:5: “Now it appears to me that Abraham our father learned the entire Torah by Ruach Hakodesh [the “holy spirit”] and occupied himself with its study and the reason for its commandments and its secrets, and he observed it in its entirety as ‘one who is not commanded but nevertheless observes it.’”294 Unlike Ibn Ezra, Nahmanides has Abraham observing the entire Torah, and not only parts of it, but he observed it as one who is not commanded and does, as BT Kiddushin 31a relates of R. Joseph, who being blind was exempt from the commandments but nevertheless fulfilled them. What is important here is the claim that Abraham learned the Torah by the spirit of divine inspiration, despite his not having been commanded. In his commentary on Gen. 26:5, R. Bahya ben Asher ben Hlava of Saragossa cites at length Nahmanides’ commentary, and adds: “But it is the view of the rabbis, of blessed memory, that he observed the entire Torah even before it was given, and he fulfilled the 613 commandments by his intellect.”295 Abraham could reveal the Torah by his own powers, aided by the spirit of divine inspiration, before it was given to Moses. This conception fundamentally resembles Philo’s explanation in his book on Abraham, in which he writes that Abraham observed the as-yet unwritten Torah in its entirety.296 R. Bahya also alludes to the ideational observance of the Torah that enabled the Patriarchs to fulfill it in their thought alone, similar to the epistemological interiorization of which I will speak in chapter six.

Ten Statements [usually rendered as in English as the Ten Commandments] which does not fall into this category is the command to observe the Sabbath. Hence every intelligent human being of every nation and of every tongue assents to them, for they are implanted in the human mind by reason. There is nothing to add to them or to subtract from them. Abraham observed them along with additional precepts” (Ibn Ezra on Exod. 20:1). English translation based on Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra, Ibn Ezra’s Commentary on the Pentateuch, vol. 2: Exodus, trans. H. N. Strickman and A. M. Silver (New York: Menorah, 1996), 407–8. 294 English translation based on Ibn Ezra, Ibn Ezra’s Commentary on the Pentateuch, vol. 1: Genesis, 331. 295 Bahya ben Asher ben Hlava of Saragossa, Rabbenu Bahya al ha-Torah, ed. Hayyim Dov Chavel, vol. 1 (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1971), 228. On R. Bahya’s Kabbalistic sources for his commentary, see ibid., 15–17. 296 Philo, De Abrahamo (On Abraham), trans. Francis Henry Colson, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 2 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1935), section 5, 6–7; section 60, 34–35; section 275, 132–35. See Green, Devotion and Commandment, 26–28.



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“Preparation,” Torah Study, and the Observance of the Commandments, according to R. Isaiah Horowitz In his Shenei Luḥot ha-Berit, R. Isaiah Horowitz discussed the issue of Abraham’s observance of the Torah.297 He then asked how the Talmudic idea (as he formulated it) that “a person is not complete until he has completed all the 613 [commandments”298 can accord with the fact that a person is not capable of performing all 613 commandments.299 He writes: Accordingly, who is he and where is he [based on Esth. 7:5] who observes all 613 [commandments]? Even Moses, may he rest in peace, did not observe them [all], and behold, “the Patriarchs themselves are the Merkabah,”300 yet they did not observe the commandments. As regards it being said that they observed the entire Torah,301 nonetheless they were not commanded to do so, and “one who is commanded and fulfills is greater than one who fulfills it though not commanded.”302 . . . And if you were to ask, accordingly, the Patriarchs and the early pious ones of the world did not actualize the whole [Torah]? Know that they did, and they did so by force of their preparation. I wish to say that they perfectly adhered to the Creator, may He be blessed, and they were rejoicing and glad to do the will of their Creator in all that He commanded them. They were perfectly ready for this, joyfully and gladhearted, and this preparation is like the actual act. I wish to say that, at any rate, all the 613 were included in the commandments that they observed, but there was no chair [i.e., the concrete vehicle of the Torah] below [i.e., in

297 For medieval interpretations of the mishnaic dictum on Abraham’s observance of the Torah prior to its being given, interpretations that underlie this notion in Shenei Luḥot ha-Berit, see Green, Devotion and Commandment, 34–50. 298 See, for example, BT Makkot 23b. 299 Horowitz lists four causes for this limitation: (1) some commandments are incumbent only on groups within the Jewish people, such as the priests and the Levites; (2) some commandments relate to exceptional situations that do not happen to every individual, such as the commandments of yibum (levirate marriage) and ḥalitzah (see Deut. 25:9); (3) some commandments can be generally observed, but are not incumbent upon each Jew in every case, such the obligation of mezuzah, from which a person living in a tent is exempt; (4) some commandments are dependent upon the Temple and the sanctity of the Land of Israel and are not applicable outside the Land, or even were abrogated upon the destruction of the Temple. See Horowitz, Shenei Luḥot ha-Berit, section 3, “Written Torah,” 1 col. b. 300 Gen. Rabbah 47:6; 69:3; 82:6; trans.: Scholem, Origins, 146. 301 M Kiddushin 4:14; BT Yoma 28b. 302 BT Kiddushin 31a.

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this world] for their actualization, rather, the chair below is the greatness of their preparation, that is as the act.303

We could conclude from R. Bahya’s supercommentary on Nahmanides that the observance of the commandments in one’s mind is a completely abstract matter since it has no expression in outer life. According, however, to R. Isaiah Horowitz, the core of the observance of the commandments is preparation, that is, the inner desire and longing that must accompany the actual fulfillment of God’s will as expressed in His commandments. It is by means of this longing that a person adheres to God. In principle, there is no difference between a person who is commanded to perform a single commandment and one mandated for all 613. In terms of a person’s inner self, the number of commandments is not significant, what matters is the nature and force of the desire to fulfill them. This desire is not an abstract quality and anyone possessing it realizes, through it, the observance of the commandments in the world. Horowitz understands that this is not meant to release the one commanded from the fulfillment of all the commandments that he is capable of observing; but his protesting this so greatly is significant. Further support for the notion that this concept of preparation is a prime example of ritual interiorization can be found in Horowitz’s comparison of “preparation” with rabbinic dicta on Torah study as a substitute for the offering of sacrifices:304 The explanation of preparation is that he observes all that he is capable of observing. That is to say, regarding that which is impossible for him to observe, nevertheless, he will do what is possible for him to do regarding this commandment: he will study this commandment. This is in accordance with what our Rabbis, of blessed memory, said: “Whoever is occupied with

303 Horowitz, Shenei Luḥot ha-Berit, section 3, “Written Torah,” 1 col. b. There might be an internal connection between the Horowitz’s statement that the one or the few commandments, which the Patriarchs observed, included all 613 commandments and the principle that was developed in the medieval period, according to which a person should adopt a single commandment to observe fully. For the development of this notion, which had its beginnings in the mishnaic dictum: “If a man performs but a single commandment it shall be well with him and he shall have length of days and shall inherit the Land” (M Kiddushin 1:10), see Moshe Halamish, “One Commandment” [Heb], in From Enslavement to Redemption: From Passover to Shavuot, ed. Yossi Barukhi, Hayyim Halperin, and Yair Milo (Merkaz Shapira: Or Etzion Torah Institute, 1996), 222–35. (my thanks to Avi Ben-Amitai for this reference). 304 Tanḥuma, Tzav, para. 14.



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the passage of sacrifices, it is as if he offers sacrifices.”305 Even if the Holy One, blessed be He, gave him wisdom and graces him with knowledge, understanding, and discernment [from the Amidah prayer], the reason of the commandment is that, even though he cannot observe the commandment in actuality, he will observe it in his mind,306 to discern and understand it; even if this commandment happens to come to his fellow, he will aid his fellow, urge him, and cause him to observe it. This will complete the quality of preparation, and it will be accounted for him as if he actually observed it.307

Torah study in one’s mouth and mind can substitute the observance of the studied commandment when it cannot be actually performed. This conception therefore views all Torah study as the realization of the commandment in one’s mind. The fact that this notion is not perceived by Horowitz as an exemption from the actual performance of the commandment whenever possible should not lead us to erroneously underestimate the significance of this idea. A person who studies Torah with this understanding feels throughout his studying that he is adhering to the Lord by his observing the commandment in his mind. This principle applies, whether referring to a commandment that cannot be observed at all or not at a specific time, or to the study of commandments that, along with their study, will be observed by the studier at the proper time. This notion of the interiorization of Jewish rites by Torah study significantly contributed to the intensification of Torah study for its own sake in Jewish society in recent centuries.

The Spiritualization of Torah Study and the Commandments in Regard to the Possibility of Their Cancellation in Hasidism Medieval and Kabbalistic discussions of the mishnaic dictum about Abraham having observed the Torah before it was given nurtured many diverse Hasidic teachings, all sharing the understanding that he fulfilled the commandments in an inner, spiritual manner different from the material

305 Ibid. 306 See above, 145, n. 296. 307 Horowitz, Shenei Luḥot ha-Berit, section 3, “Written Torah,” 1 col. b.

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way in which Jews observe the commandments of the Torah.308 Scholars disagree regarding the significance of the intensive Hasidic occupation with this question. Rivka Shatz-Uffenheimer interpreted the discussion of the issue by R. Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk as expressing the spiritually problematic ensuing from the mandate for activism. Unlike the manner in which I explained the position of R. Menahem Mendel above,309 ShatzUffenheimer argued that he was forced to accept the halakhah but projected his spiritual longings onto the eschatalogical.310 Green asserted that the concern with Abraham’s spiritual observance of the commandments enabled the Hasidic masters to give expression to what they felt, without openly attacking the halakhic observance of the commandments. In this manner they could justify their hidden wish for a higher Jewish existence, for direct adherence to God that was not conditional on the observance of specific commandments.311 Gellman questioned the latter interpretations and noted the presence of theological radicalism in the Hasidic teachings, but the Hasidic masters did not perceive this as requiring ritual radicalism, that is, the negation of the commandments themselves.312 My discussions in Human Temple of the observance of the commandments with devekut indicate that most of the early Hasidic masters anchored commitment to the strictures of the halakhah in conscious theological thought.313 What, then, is the pivotal Hasidic motif for such discussion of spiritual devotion? To answer this question, I will examine a number of key examples: And here, the Rabbis, of blessed memory, said [BT Yoma 28b]: “Inasmuch as Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, etc.” [Gen. 26:5]—this teaches that our father Abraham observed even the law of eruv tavshilin, which is seemingly puzzling: whence did he know this? If you were to say that he grasped the performance of the commandments and the rules [mishpatim] that the intellect requires, nonetheless, the question remains, how did he grasp the laws [hukim] that have no [rational] reason, and are not mandated by the intellect, such as the red heifer and other laws. But it will be understood 308 For an extensive discussion of these teachings, see Green, Devotion and Commandment, 9–24. 309 See above, 104, after the reference to n. 177. 310 Schatz Uffenheimer, Hasidism as Mysticism, 115. 311 Green, Devotion and Commandment, 50–51. 312 Jerome I. Gellman, “The Figure of Abraham in Hasidic Literature,” Harvard Theological Review 91 (1998): 288–93. 313 Margolin, Human Temple, 288–342.



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by our words, as our Rabbis, of blessed memory, said [Num. Rabbah 19:4], for He said to Moses, To you I will reveal the reasons for the heifer, but for others this is an inexplicable law, for all the hukim have a supernal reason and root in the order of Creation, for the Creation was in accordance with the Torah. Rather, not every mind is capable [of understanding] this, therefore, for others this is an inexplicable law. But the Torah did not speak of the great ones, such as Moses and our father Abraham, of blessed memory, for there was nothing that stood before them [i.e., without reason] to be an inexplicable law, rather, all the hukim were for them commandments for their knowledge and grasp of their reason and root. But this could be, that the hukim would be transformed into commandments for him [i.e., one of the great ones], only if the commandments were to cease to exist for him because of their irrelevance for him. By way of comparison: all the negative commandments: “Thou shalt not murder,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” “Thou shalt not steal”—these prohibitions are not suitable for him because of the shattering of his desire, with all the material traits that he does not use for his needs, except for [the service of] the Lord alone, and he is disgusted by the filling of any of his needs, [as by] the filth of mud and excrement, which no man need be warned to keep away from, because he would do so anyway, out of disgust. In a similar vein, King David of blessed memory, said [Ps. 109:22]: “My heart is pierced within me.” Now, for such a person, for whom these commandments are irrelevant, the reasons for the hukim are revealed to him, and the hukim become commandments for him. This is the meaning of what our Rabbis, of blessed memory, said [BT Niddah 61b], that the commandments will be abolished in the messianic period, for [Isa. 11:9] “For the land shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord,” and they will have a different Torah, instead of the hukim there will be commandments. And when he goes from strength to strength, and is only high above, until he reaches the root of the entire Torah and commandments, which is “I am the Lord your God”—[God, for him, is] pure, limitless, unity. As [his comprehension] stands there, the wings of all the commandments [that are needed to bear him to the heights] will cease to beat, and [for such a person] all the hukim and commandments will cease, for the Evil Inclination shall cease. He will stand above, before [the beginning of] the Creation, and then, where will the Evil Inclination be?314

314 Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk, Peri ha-Aretz, Toledot (Jerusalem, 2014), 99–101.

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R. Menahem Mendel’s basic assumption is that the commandments were meant in order to connect with God. They are holy counsels aimed at attaining connection with and adherence to Him. For R. Menahem Mendel, it is materiality that precludes man’s direct connection to boundless godly reality. Consequently, in the material world in which we live the commandments are bridging counsels that connect to the divine. The more a person is freed from his desires and from his material instincts, the less he needs the commandments: they become less relevant for him. He is capable of connecting with God in pure unity, which is the meaning of the first Commandment: “I am the Lord your God.” Abraham the Believer adhered to the meaning of this commandment. By his devotion and connection with God, which was proven by his famous self-sacrifice, he observed all the commandments at their root. Just as the Indian yogi exchanges sacrifices with constant awareness of breathing that makes possible his direct devotion, so too did Abraham, according to the teaching of R. Menahem Mendel, fulfil the rite—that is, the laws of the Torah—in his inner being by his living in constant adherence to God. For R. Menahem Mendel, the main problem is not with the commandments, since for him they are not heteronomous mandates but advice for connection with the godly; it is the hukim that are problematic, that is, the existence of inexplicable laws that have no spiritual significance for those observing them. The greatness of Moses and Abraham consisted of everything, for them, being commandments (and not laws), that is, ways of connecting with God. The ideal posed by R. Menahem Mendel in the character of Abraham is that of the perfect interiorization of the rite, as can be seen from the following passage, as well: And here, the Rabbis, of blessed memory, said [following BT Nedarim 22b]: If Israel had not merited, all that would have been given them would have been the book of the Torah, the book of Joshua, and Chronicles. Since they were not meritorious, there were many prophets, since for Adam, the handiwork of the Holy One, blessed be He, a single commandment sufficed for him, to adhere to Him, may He be blessed, and similarly for our father Abraham, of blessed memory: with a single attribute, namely, love, he fulfilled the entire Torah, and even eruvei tavshilin, as the teaching of [the rabbis], of blessed memory [BT Yoma 28b]. This is the meaning of what we pray: “Instill in our hearts to lovingly fulfill all the teachings of Your Torah.” For the sayagim [rabbinic restrictive measures] are combinations of traits



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and counsels for adherence to the Creator, may He be blessed, as in the teaching of the Zohar [2:82b], that calls all the commandments counsels and conduits for drawing down the [divine] attributes [i.e., the Sefirot]. Because of the paucity of human intellect, they all are necessary. This is the meaning of what Scripture writes [Eccl. 7:29]: “God made men plain, but they have engaged in too much reasoning.”315

R. Levi Isaac of Berdichev employs similar reasoning in his discussion of this issue: Our not attaining the Torah by ourselves and our reason is due to materiality, which is a partition [preventing us] from attaining the light of spirituality. A person who has stripped himself of materiality and whose spirituality dominates is capable of attaining Torah by his mind’s eye by himself. For the 248 spiritual limbs themselves are positive commandments, and the 365 sinews themselves are negative commandments. Consequently, our father Abraham whose material[ity] was refined, attained by his 248 limbs and 365 sinews all the spirituality of the Torah in its entirety, before it was given.316

These two renowned disciples of the Maggid of Mezeritch presumably subscribe to a dualistic conception. Their ideal is stripping away materiality, so that man voids himself of his materiality. The closer a person comes to this ideal, the greater his ability to interiorize the Torah, to attain it with his mind’s eye, in his inner self, and to fulfill it in a spiritual manner. What is the nature of spiritual existence of this sort? A comparison of their writings with the conception of R. Hayyim Vital in Sha‘arei Qedushah on the topic of the 613 limbs reveals a vast disparity between them: The spiritual food of the holy soul is drawn to it by the fulfillment of the Torah, that is comprised of 613 commandments, analogous to the 613 limbs of the soul, that are called “bread,” as it is written, “Come, eat of my bread” [Prov. 9:5]. And each of the 248 limbs is nourished by the specific commandment that relates to that limb, and when a person lacks the fulfillment of a certain commandment, then the specific limb that relates to the commandment will lack its food, that is drawn to it from the four letters of the Tetragrammaton, as it is written, “You keep them all alive” [Neh. 9:6]. All the commandments

315 Ibid., “Letters,” 64 (letter from April 19, 1787). 316 Levi Isaac of Berdichev, Qedushat Levi, part 2: “First Sanctity,” 335.

Ritual Interiorization and Intent for Commandments  •  CHAPTER ONE

are dependent upon them, as our Rabbis, of blessed memory said: [the numerical value of the first two letters of the Tetregrammaton] yud-heh [10 + 5] with shin-mem-yud [“My Name” = 300 + 40 + 10] [has the numerical value of] 365 [= the number of negative commandments and the number of sinews in the human body], [the numerical value of the last two letters of the Tetregrammaton] vav-heh [6 + 5] with zayin-khaf-resh-yud [“My remembrance” = 7 + 20 + 200 + 10] [has the numerical value of] 248 [= the number of positive commandments and the number of limbs in the human body].317

According to Vital, the commandments spiritually sustain the body. The godly element, the intellective soul that is enclothed in the body, is nourished from the commandments and therefore the human service of the commandments is essential for the Divine Presence in the world. The above Hasidic conception reverses this: the commandments are counsels for man in his aspiration to connect to the godly. The more distant he is, the more he needs the commandments, while the closer he is, the more capable he is of connecting with their inner essence and has less need for their outer actualization. A person on the level of Abraham does not need them, unlike other people, who are immersed in the reality of this world. The ritual interiorization indicated by this approach is not the result of the negation of physical existence, but of inner liberation from the weight of dependence upon material existence. When spiritual effort is directed to contact with the divine, the power of the material wanes. As R. Menahem Mendel explains, it is actually the disparity between the desire to adhere to Ein-Sof and material reality in which man lives that enables him to overcome the latter in his inner self and adhere to the godly. Materiality is a basic fact of life, and the cardinal question that troubled the Hasidic masters was not how to negate it but how to neutralize its innate antispiritual aspect. Against this background we can understand R. Levi Isaac of Berdichev’s comparison between Abraham and King Melchizedek of Salem: “And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High” [Gen. 14:18]—speaking generally: there are two servants of the Creator, one worships the Creator with self-sacrifice, and the other worships the Creator with commandments and good deeds. This 317 Vital, Sha‘arei Qedushah, part 1, sha‘ar 1 (introduction to the Tikkunim), 9.



Part One: Ritual and Custom

is the difference: the one who worships the Creator in self-sacrifice, not by commandments and good deeds, is actually like Ayin [i.e., actually like EinSof; literally, “nothingness”]; and the one who worships the Lord by means of commandments worships something in Yesh [being—the antithesis of Ayin], since the commandments relate to Yesh. Consequently, the one who worships by self-sacrifice, he is like Ayin, [and accordingly] cannot draw down the divine emanation, because he is nothing, only, he adheres himself to the Lord, may He be blessed, while the one who worships by means of commandments and good deeds, this is by something Yesh [i.e., substantial]; accordingly, he can draw down to himself the divine emanation from the Lord, may He be blessed. And behold, the one who worships by means of commandments and good deeds—these also have aspects of Ayin, that is, what pleases the Creator is of the aspect of Ayin. One who draws down to him the divine emanation and blessing by means of commandments causes himself to adhere to Ayin and Yesh, because, since his intent is to please the Creator, while he is nothing, he causes himself to adhere to Ayin; and by performing commandments and good deeds, he causes himself to adhere to Yesh, for the commandments are Yesh; and by performing the commandments, he brings down to himself divine emanation from the Lord, may He be blessed. Consequently, at times there is a person who provides livelihood for himself by his deeds. And behold, our Sages, of blessed memory, said [BT KIddushin 82(a)]: our father Abraham, fulfilled the entire Torah, even eruvei tavshilin, before it was given. To approach the meaning: how did he knew the entire Torah? Since our father Abraham separated himself from materiality, he saw his 248 limbs, that each limb’s vitality comes from a commandment, and each and every limb has a commandment that vivifies it. For that commandment, that corresponds to the limb, is the life-force of the limb; and without the commandment, the limb would have no vitality. He understood that the life-force of the head is from the tefilin, and similarly for the other commandments. Because of this, he perceived [the spiritual meaning of] all the commandments, before it [= the Torah] was given, for he saw the lifeforce of his limbs, that each limb has its life-force from a commandment. Consequently, Abraham could not worship the Creator outside the Land [of Israel] by means of the commandments, because outside the Land it was not possible to fulfill the commandments dependent upon the Land; he could not fulfill several commandments that correspond to his limbs, and he would be lacking several limbs, because their life-force is from their corresponding

Ritual Interiorization and Intent for Commandments  •  CHAPTER ONE

commandments. Outside the Land he was not capable of fulfilling the commandments dependent upon the Land; accordingly, as long as Abraham was outside the Land he would worship the Lord by his self-sacrifice. Upon, however, his arrival in the Land he could fulfill all the commandments, each of his limbs was fully elevated by means of the commandment, and he accordingly worshiped by means of the commandment. Consequently, we find that his engaging in self-sacrifice and hurling himself into the fiery furnace, and similarly, several tests that Abraham underwent with selfsacrifice, they all were outside the Land, for outside the Land he worshiped through self-sacrifice, while in the Land of Israel there was no need of this, for he worshiped by means of the commandment. Regarding his bringing Isaac up to the Binding in the Land of Israel: this was the decree of the Creator, who commanded him. Consequently, outside the Land, when he worshiped by means of self-sacrifice, he adhered to the Ayin, and could not draw down to him the divine emanation. In the Land of Israel, however, where he worshiped by means of the commandments, this was of the aspect of Yesh, and he could draw down the emanation from the Creator. This is the meaning of the verse “Go forth from your land” [Gen. 12:1]—Rashi, of blessed memory, interpreted: “for your own benefit, for your own good,” meaning, for your own good go to the Land of Israel, for there you will worship by means of commandments, and you will be able to draw down to you the divine emanation; but outside the Land, where you worship by self-sacrifice, adhering to the Ayin, it is not possible for you to draw down to you the emanation.318

This teaching clearly demonstrates R. Levi Isaac’s preference for the observance of the commandments to the self-negation of self-sacrifice, since Abraham’s greatness lies in his adherence to God by means of the commandments, even though the Torah had yet to be given. Extreme self-sacrifice was the way of Melchizedek, and, implicitly, that of the Christian mystics who lived in the environment of the early Hasidic masters. The path of the commandments that serve as counsels for connection and the realization of the mandate for love was unquestionably preferred by the early Hasidic masters. Despite the ideal of self-negation that emerges from some of their teachings, their intensive occupation with ritual interiorization did not lead them to cancel the rite out of quietist considerations. They attack the rabbinic formalistic conceptions, which 318 Levi Isaac of Berdichev, Qedushat Levi, Lekh Lekha, 15–16.



Part One: Ritual and Custom

assume that the commandments do not require intent, by imparting inner content to the halakhah. The reason for maintaining a halakhic life lies in the commandments’ potential to bridge the material and godly worlds. An inner turmoil about this question is especially evident in the teachings of the disciples of the Maggid of Mezeritch. On the one hand, they exalt the ideal model of Abraham’s self-sacrifice, while, on the other, they definitely chose the path of commandments. This choice testifies to their perception of themselves, and certainly their disciples, as bound to the material, as well as their awareness of the danger of immersion in it; and they undertook to contend with the personal and general material reality by means of the commandments. The method of ritual interiorization adopted by the early Hasidic masters maintained the external religious ritual while infusing the fulfillment of the commandments with inner meaning.

Introduction: The Meaning of Ecstatic Experience and Mystical Experience in the Study of Religion

In the preceding chapter I distinguished between two facets of religious ritual life: the outer aspect, which can often exist independent of the inner meanings that the religious traditions themselves ascribe to these rituals, and the inner one, which is evident in the processes of ritual Interiorization and the deepening of the intent behind these rites. Moshe Idel noted that the praxis of various religions alternates between two poles: that of routine ritual and belief by rote, on the one hand, and that of ecstatic practices, on the other. This oscillation is responsible for the effort to intensify religious life, in order to strengthen the connection with the heavenly entity or entities, and reaches its climax in the life of the mystic.1 According to Idel, personal, direct religious experiences are not detached from the life of religious praxis, they rather originate in the ecstatic implementation of the institutionalized rites that intensifies the religious experience. Idel, however, narrowly defines the term “ecstasy” in his books; for example: “We shall use the term ecstasy to mean the temporary effacement of one’s own personality, during which time one is possessed by the divine power or presence or divine spirit. This experience is sought after in Hasidism, but it is also one that does not occur, in general, without prior preparation.”2 In many religions, and especially in Judaism, praxis and spiritual life 1 Idel, Ascensions, 23. 2 Moshe Idel, Hasidism: Between Ecstasy and Magic (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995), 61.


Part Two: Emotion, Sensation, and Experience

are intimately related. An overly restrictive definition of ecstasy, however, defeats the reasoning of Idel’s general argument since all the facets of inner religious life are plainly not directed to the attainment of ecstasy, in the sense that he gives to it. On the other hand, the undefined use of the term “ecstasy” is also problematic, and will likely lead to meaningless formulations since a wide variety of differing meanings could be attributed to this term, as is often the case with regard to “mysticism.” “Ecstasy” might denote, inter alia, excitement, enthusiasm, an extracorporeal experience, altered consciousness, liberation from the self. Dodds and others realized that the goal of Dionysian ecstasy could be anything from a person leaving his self all the way to a profound personality change. There are grounds to argue that the term “ecstasy” did not originally include the idea of the soul leaving the body: it simply referred to any sudden change of consciousness or state of mind, and was attributed in antiquity to the intervention of the gods.3 “Ecstatic practices” is therefore a vague term that could include various exercises directed to what is perceived by the experiencer as external intervention by the god(s), or distinctly inner experiences that knowingly intend to effect a change in the religious individual’s consciousness or in his attitude to religious life. The practices themselves are essential for an understanding of some aspects of religious life but they do not suffice to explain the meaning of the diverse facets of inner religious life. In the preceding chapter, I presented a broad range of religious rituals that are accompanied by directives for inner intentionality. Inner ways, some of a clearly intentional nature, are bound up with the praxis of religious rituals. Unlike this conception, however, the discussion in the coming chapters will not necessarily be based on the discussion in chapter one, even if in some instances the experience is directly linked to religious practice, which in some cases might even enable the experience. We will examine the various aspects of what is usually subsumed under the term “religious ecstasy,” without assuming the existence of a Gordian knot binding these two aspects. My starting point in the next two chapters is closer to that underlying The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, who refrained from examining the relationship between praxis and experience that I explored in chapter one.

3 Eric Robertson Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951), 77 and n. 84.

Introduction: The Meaning of Ecstatic Experience  •  CHAPTER ONE

According to James, who separated personal, direct religious experiences from theology and institutionalized religious organizations that are based on inert beliefs and routine practices, there is a state of mind, known to religious men, but to no others, in which the will to assert ourselves and hold our own has been displaced by a willingness to close our mouths and be as nothing in the floods and waterspouts of God. . . . Religious feeling is thus an absolute addition to the Subject’s range of life. It gives him a new sphere of power. When the outward battle is lost, and the outer world disowns him, it redeems and vivifies an interior world which otherwise would be an empty waste. . . . This sort of happiness in the absolute and everlasting is what we find nowhere but in religion.4

James asserts that adding the adjective “mystic” to this emotional experience means using this technical terminology to stress the existence of an experience of especially intensive piety for a certain amount of time.5 James bolsters the position taken by thinkers who preceded him, such as Solomon Maimon and Friedrich Schleiermacher, who, following up on their knowledge of Kantian philosophy, anchored religion in the emotional sphere. Much has been written about this predilection, which is connected to the Romanticism of the early nineteenth century. Its importance lies primarily in shifting the center of interest in religion from the metaphysical to man’s inner world. James argues that . . . in a world in which no religious feeling had ever existed, I doubt whether any philosophic theology could ever have been framed. I doubt if dispassionate intellectual contemplation of the universe, apart from inner unhappiness and need of deliverance on the one hand and mystical emotion on the other, would ever have resulted in religious philosophies such as we now possess.6

James thereby strengthens the argument that all religious life originates in a specific type of emotion, that may be called “religious,” and that creates a special inner world that cannot be fully reduced to other contents that fill the individual’s inner world. Thus, from a personal experiential viewpoint, direct experience cannot be connected only to specific practices or 4 James, Varieties, Lecture Two, 47–48. 5 Ibid., Lecture Three, 69. 6 Ibid., 431.



Part Two: Emotion, Sensation, and Experience

to arbitrary definitions of broad concepts such as “ecstasy,” even if in some instances such definitions clarify the religious experience. In his definition cited above, Idel chose one of the possible definitions for “ecstasy,” similar to other scholars of religion who picked other partial definitions, such as Eliade, Couliano, and Lewis,7 and unlike Marghanita Laski, who presented various types of ecstasy based on an analytical analysis.8 Hollenback adopted a different approach, one closer to Laski’s attempt to link religious phenomena and those thought to be ecstatic in the secularized world. He observed that paranormal experiences described in the literature as mystical experiences are of the same nature as parapsychological experiences reported in the twentieth century by nonreligious individuals. He maintains that both mystic and paranormal experiences are of an ecstatic nature: Ecstasy often appears in mystical literature to refer to an intense state of exaltation, bliss, and thrilling excitement that is often of such intensity that the mystic loses awareness of both his or her physical environment and body. . . . Ecstasy also has a second connotation that implies an even more radical process of abstraction from the body and the physical world. This is what I call its etymological sense, “ecstasy” in the sense of “ex-stasis,” that sensation or feeling that mystics, psychics, mediums, and other specialists in the paranormal often have of literally seeming to stand outside of themselves as though they were looking at their bodies from a vantage point exterior to it.9 7 See Moshe Idel, “On the Language of Ecstatic Experience in Jewish Mysticism,” in Religionen—Religiose Erfahrung; Religions—The Religious Experience, ed. Tilo Schabert and Matthias Riedl (Wurzburg: Königshausen und Neumann, 2008), 49–50. Idel contrasts his definition of ecstasy with those of Eliade and Culianu, which can both be summarized as “the ascent of the soul to other realms for a variety of aims.” See Eliade, Shamanism, 223; idem, Rites and Symbols, pp. 100–101, see also Mircea Eliade, Zalmoxis: The Vanishing God: Comparative Studies in the Religion and Folklore of Dacia and Eastern Europe, trans. William R. Trask (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972), 34–44; Ioan Petru Culianu, Out of This World: Otherworldly Journeys from Gilgamesh to Albert Einstein (Boston: Shambala, 1991); idem, Psychanodia: A Survey of the Evidence Concerning the Ascension of the Soul and Its Relevance (Leiden: Brill, 1983). I. M. Lewis, in contrast, ties his definition to the sociological aspects of possession, which demarcate his definition. See his Ecstatic Religion: A Study of Shamanism and Spirit Possession (London: Routledge, 2003), 15–31. 8 Marghanita Laski, Ecstasy: A Study of Some Secular and Religious Experiences (New York: Greenwood Press, 1968). 9 Jess Byron Hollenback, Mysticism: Experience, Response, and Empowerment (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996), 136–37. For Hollenback’s main sources for describing contemporary paranormal experiences, see Robert A. Monroe, Journeys

Introduction: The Meaning of Ecstatic Experience  •  CHAPTER ONE

Following Monroe, Hollenback positions the phenomena that he calls “ecstatic” close to the situation that modern research calls “half-asleep” dreams (hypnagogic illusions)10 with a shared characteristic. Both occur in an incorporeal environment but relate to the material world, and both possess an aspect of the fulfillment of wishes and the production of unconscious contents.11 The scholarly literature on ecstasy tends to group together both trance states wherein directives for the solution of life’s problems are received, similar to she’eilat halom [a request to be answered in a dream], as well as inner experiences of the negation of the self and the substantiality of outer reality by the application of proper techniques.12 Hollenback, too, consciously takes such a stance in order to explain the fundamental connection between noncontentual mystical experiences, that are usually perceived as being more sublime, and paranormal phenomena13—both of which, he maintains, are bound up with recollective situations or techniques. I disagree with this orientation and prefer to avoid using the term “ecstatic experiences” to describe out-of-body experiences, even though they are often perceived as such by those experiencing them, since, in the final analysis, we must not forget that these events are experienced in man’s inner self. Hollenback himself, who calls paranormal phenomena “exteriorizations,” stated that these are revelations perceived in a person’s inner self: “They are revelations as well, that is to say, because they are means of insight into matters of ultimate concern, one cannot experience them indifferently but rather must respond to them with one’s whole being.”14 Personal religious experiences, including those that bring the individual to an ecstatic state, in terms of detachment from corporeality, too, are Out of the Body (Garden City: Doubleday, 1971); Sylvan Muldoon and Carrington Hereward, The Projection of the Astral Body (New York: Weiser, 1974); Gerda Walther, “On the Psychology of Telepathy,” American Society for Psychical Research 25 (1931): 438–46; idem, “Some Experiences Concerning the Human Aura,” American Society for Psychical Research 26 (1932): 339–46. 10 Peretz Lavie, Lectures on Sleep and Dreaming [Heb] (Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defense, 1981), 12–16. 11 Hollenback, Mysticism, 153–54. 12 Laski, Ecstasy; Carlo Ginzburg, Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath, trans. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Penguin, 1992); Felicitas D. Goodman, Where the Spirits Ride the Winds: Trance Journeys and Other Ecstatic Experiences (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990); Culiano, Out of This World; Lewis, Ecstatic Religion. 13 On the tendency of researchers of mysticism to differentiate between the two types of ecstasy, see Hollenback, Mysticism, 276 n. 1. 14 Hollenback, Mysticism, 139–40.



Part Two: Emotion, Sensation, and Experience

inner experiences. We tend to forget that ecstatic experiences thought to be spiritual, since they include a sensation of being somewhat detached from normal corporeality, have a common denominator with experiences—also called “ecstatic”—that are linked to clearly inner sensations that exceed the normal sense of self. In sexual activity, in the imbibing of alcoholic beverages, and in the ingesting of hallucinogens, all humans experience different forms of freedom from themselves. This liberation is based on sensations of self-forgetfulness resulting from physical experiences or from the influence of chemical substances. Scholars of religion and intellectuals are inclined to sharply divide experiences entailing corporeality from those with various types of release from it; however, even if this distinction is based on the assignment of different values to the two sorts of experiences, we cannot ignore their shared inner trait that originates in the universal human aspiration for freedom from everyday angst. I do not intend to reduce ecstatic and religious experiences and place them in the same realm as physical experiences, as opposed to the emphatic statements of many who have experienced them; but I do not think that it is by chance that the term “ecstatic,” which denotes leaving the body, is also applied to conditions dependent upon the corporeal, such as ecstatic sexuality. Dionysian rites in the Greek world that found their way to the mystery rites in the Hellenistic and Roman world, employed sexual orgies and intoxication in order to attain ecstatic states.15 The discussion of ecstatic states in the monotheistic religions, which is deeply influenced by the Enneads of Plotinus, is usually divorced from the more material contexts of the term, which now, as in the past, is associated with the sensorial intoxication and temporary release from regular self-consciousness. This detachment led some scholars to disregard the mental element common to all “ecstatic” phenomena, which denote, diverse levels of self-forgetfulness attained by a broad, and even opposing, range of means. I do not intend to limit the yawning gap between the most spiritual phenomena and the most material, but we should acknowledge the basic human element common to them all, namely, the urge to be freed from the earthly, everyday, gray experience of the self that so many individuals find oppressive. Thus, as we seek to separate routine experiences attained by physical sensory overload or dependent on material changes, such as experiences caused by ingesting alcoholic drinks or hallucinogens, from exceptional 15 See Euripides, Bacchae, ed. Eric Robertson Dodds (Oxford: Clarendon, 1960), esp. Dodd’s discussion in the introduction; Harrison, Prolegomena, 359–453.

Introduction: The Meaning of Ecstatic Experience  •  CHAPTER ONE

spiritual experiences that are not related to such physical means, we should not forget that the latter, as well, are experienced in man’s inner consciousness. Unusual dreams, prophetic revelations and visions, trances, and outof-body experiences, extrasensory perception or clairvoyance, telepathy and vision beyond the boundaries of space, automatic writing or speech— all are personal experiences that occur in man’s inner world unassisted by regular sensory activity.16 By the same token, profound experiences of unification or contact with God, or release from the regular state of consciousness that frequently take place with the aid of specific techniques, that are experienced as contact with the absolute—such as prophesying, revelation, or divine inspiration—are sensed and experienced in the individual’s inner consciousness, albeit with changes in his outer physical appearance.17 The attention of those undergoing such experiences is drawn by their exceptional content, and their inner intensity is the basis for their assumed authenticity. From a religious perspective, these contents are seen as coming from divine sources, while from a secular viewpoint, many are considered to be paranormal phenomena. The different answers given regarding the essence of these phenomena cannot refute the inward direction taken by the individual who undergoes such experiences, and does not dismiss them as mere illusions or as being misled by his senses. Even when the individual claims that the source of his inner visions is external and transcendental,18 this is still an inner phenomenon. Their authenticity and tangibility in the eyes of the one experiencing them are founded solely on inner, psychological events, and not on the claimed existence of an identical experience undergone by another person. Paranormal experiences are verified by the individual’s inner conversation with himself. This is different 16 See Joseph Banks Rhine and Joseph Gaither Pratt, Parapsychology: Frontier Science of the Mind (Springfield: Thomas, 1957); Joseph Banks Rhine, The Reach of the Mind (New York: Sloan, 1947); Aaron Zeitlin, The Other Reality: Parapsychology and Parapsychic Phenomena [Heb] (Tel Aviv: Yavneh, 1973); Amos Goldreich, Automatic Writing in Zoharic Literature and Modernism [Heb] (Los Angeles: Cherub, 2010). 17 See, for example, Underhill, Mysticism, part 1, chap. 1, 3–25. Underhill herself reserved the term “ecstasy,” using it to describe the climax of the mystical contemplative experience described by mystics as the attainment of God, a contemplative process based on concentration that leads to the transferal of the consciousness from the outer world to the extent of detachment from it (ibid., 358–79). 18 See Isaac Lewin’s concise distinction between outer and inner approaches in his “The Meaning of the Dream in Modern Psychology and in Judaism” [Heb], in The Spectrum of Opinions and Worldviews on Dreams in Jewish Culture, ed. Dror Kerem (Jerusalem: Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sport, 1995), 17–20.



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from the regular absorption of sensory data, which is confirmed also by means of mutual reporting by different people of identical sensations experienced by each at different times in response to the same external stimuli. Unlike the experiences discussed here, sensory absorption is confirmed and verified externally through human discourse. Since sensory perceptions, too, are absorbed by means of man’s inner consciousness, we presumably could question the fundamental distinction between sensory perceptions and the inner perceptions described as religious or aesthetic experiences. Wittgenstein explained the difference between sensory and other perceptions by distinguishing between “seeing” and “seeing as something”: Two uses of the word “see”. The one: “What do you see there?”—“I see this” (and then a description, a drawing, a copy). The other: “I see a likeness between these two faces”—let the man I tell this to be seeing the faces as clearly as I do myself.19

Based on this fundamental linguistic distinction, Wittgenstein sought to separate the perception of objects (such as colors) that are independent of the will, and that of different aspects (such as beauty or courage) that are contingent on the will: An aspect is subject to the will. If something appears blue to me, I cannot see it red, and it makes no sense to say “See it red”; whereas it does make sense to say “See it as . . .”. And that the aspect is voluntary (at least to a certain extent) seems to be essential to it, as it is essential to imagining that it is voluntary.20

Thus, the sensory perception of objects is fundamentally different from what is based on will and imagination, such as love, bravery, or God. This explains Wittgenstein’s statement that “[y]ou can’t hear God speak to someone else, you can hear him only if you are being addressed.”21 Those who differ as to whether the source of experiences is outer or inner nevertheless concur on the substantiality of inner experiences.22 I argue that recognizing the existence of such experiences says nothing about 19 Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, part 2, 193. 20 Wittgenstein, Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe, vol. 1 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1980), no. 899. 21 Wittgenstein, Zettel, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988), no. 717. 22 See Underhill, Mysticism, part 2, chap. 5: “Voices and Visions,” where she lists various types of paranormal phenomena that are ascribed to the transcendental perceived within a person’s psyche.

Introduction: The Meaning of Ecstatic Experience  •  CHAPTER ONE

their source. I will discuss this issue at length in the Afterword, including the question of source. The position of modern scholars, psychologists, and philosophers that religious paranormal experiences are inner expressions that occur within the human psyche is obviously far removed from the view, characteristic of past and present religious conceptions, that such experiences attest to outer divine intervention. Dodds showed that when the Greeks spoke of Apollonian prophetic madness, the madness of the Dionysian rite, the poetic madness that originated in the muses, or the erotic madness that was traced to Aphrodite and Eros, they meant that the spirit of the gods entered man.23 If so, perhaps the phenomena of change attributed to external intervention should not be included in our phenomenological discussion of inner religion, but should rather be placed within the context of modern psychological and ideational analyses of these phenomena. Since, however, the sources themselves exhibit different degrees of awareness of the inner nature of these experiences, the present discussion of these experiences will be directed mainly to that inner aspect. To draw into sharper focus the question of awareness of the singular inner character of the experiences examined in the following chapters, I prefer a methodology that distinguishes between two experiential types: tangible experiences, which are visual or aural, symbolic, and verbal, on the one hand, and, on the other, those that are intangible and therefore lacking defined content. Several attempts have been made in the study of religion to distinguish between trances and the contemplative, meditative states that we term “inward focusing.” Rudolf Otto was careful to separate the mystical knowledge that for mystics such as the German Meister Eckhart and the Indian Shankara was a synthesis of two types of mystical knowledge, the introspective and that of the “unifying vision,” from other types of mysticism, including illumination, emotional mysticism, and nature mysticism.24 Heschel, following Underhill, also distinguished between two types of ecstasy: 23 Dodds, Greeks, 64–101. 24 Otto, East and West, 70–76. For newer distinctions, see, for example, C. Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation (Boston: Shambhala, 1988); Marjorie Schoman, “A Psychophysiological Model of Meditation and Altered States of Consciousness: A Critical Review,” in The Psychobiology of Consciousness, ed. Julian M. Davidson and Richard J. Davidson (New York: Plenum, 1980), 333–78. McGinn attacked the tendency of psychologists (such as Daniel Merkur) to identify all forms of mystical union with trances or with experiences meant to enter a trance; see Idel and



Part Two: Emotion, Sensation, and Experience

the wild and fervid type, which is a state of frenzy arising from overstimulation and emotional tension; and the sober or contemplative type, which is a rapture of the soul in a state of complete calmness, enabling a person to rise beyond the confines of consciousness.25

For Heschel, Dionysian ecstasy is representative of the first type, and Neoplatonism, especially the depiction of ecstasy in the Enneads, the second. The first is enthusiasm, a state in which God dwells within man, while the second type is characterized by the separation of body and soul and the latter’s aspiration to ascend the spiritual ladder to the seven gates of Heaven to unification with God, as is known from the liturgy once attributed to the Mithraic religion.26 From a phenomenological perspective, I find that various religious sources support such a distinction, even if I am not committed to their hierarchizing and providing an explanation of these different types of experiences. In his Ascent of Mount Carmel, Saint John of the Cross, for instance, separates supernatural revelations and visions and spiritual revelations of incorporeal content from the spiritual elevation in love of God that leads to unification with Him. He states explicitly regarding the former:

McGinn, Mystical Union, 191–92. Stace, following James and Jung, developed Otto’s distinction in a clearly psychological direction centered around the differentiation between the introverted and extroverted types, with which he explains the essential differences between ecstatic experiences. For my objection to the psychologistic reductionism at the basis of this distinction, see above, introduction, 18 n. 35. Haviva Pedaya, following Stace (and in effect, James as well), uses the distinction between these two types to construct a new paradigm in the study of Jewish mysticism. See, for example, her “Two Types of Ecstatic Experience in Hasidism” [Heb], Daat 55 (2005): 73–108. Such approaches emphasize the importance of personality differences between the founders of disparate ways in mysticism and necessarily reduce the meaning of the ideational differences between their spiritual schools. Even if the personality component contributed to the fashioning of diverse mystical paths, religious research is mainly concerned with the fundamental contentual differences resulting from different theoretical approaches, since it is highly doubtful whether personality differences are significant when we speak of large groups of followers of each of these ways. See also below, chapter three, 238–40. 25 Heschel, Prophets, 325. See also Underhill, Mysticism, 363. 26 Albrecht Dieterich, Eine Mithrasliturgie (Darmstadt, 1966), 183–84. Cf. the proposal by the researcher of Sufism Paul Nwyia, to view Sufi states of illumination [wajd] as “instatic” states and not ecstatic ones, since the mystic does not leave himself, but rather penetrates into the depths of his self (Paul Nwyia, Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah (m. 709/1309) et la Naissance de la confrerie sadilite [Beirut: Dar el-Machreq, 1972], 276).

Introduction: The Meaning of Ecstatic Experience  •  CHAPTER ONE

With respect to Divine visions and revelations and locutions, God is not wont to reveal them, for He is ever desirous that men should make such use of their own reason as is possible, and all such things have to be governed by reason, save those that are of faith . . . although these are not contrary to faith.27

Buddhism, as well, draws a sharp line between the two types of states. Indeed, Buddhist meditative techniques of concentration can lead to special trancelike states. Buddhism, however, differentiates between such states and its supreme purpose.28 Shinzen (Steven) Young wrote in this context: The meditator may experience warm, blissful energy flowing in parts of the body, see dazzling light, hear symphonies of internal sound, seem to float out of the body, and the like. Or one may encounter what appears to be archetypal entities: gods, goddesses, sages, and demons. In most traditions of Buddhism, such experiences are denigrated as stray paths and impediments along the “main line” to liberation. Zen teachers usually dismiss them as makyo [obstructive hallucination] and recommend simply ignoring them.29

My distinction between the types of paranormal experiences and inward focusing (see below) is based on a distinguishing principle different from that described above. Paranormal experiences have visual or verbal-aural content like that found in dreams, trancelike states of verbal content, visions, prophesying, and the prophetic statements and revelations of angels and soothsayers. I, however, prefer to use the terms “meditation” and “inward focusing” to portray experiential occurrences whose content, according to the testimony of those undergoing them, is not verbal or tangible but is closer to ineffable states of consciousness.30 27 John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, in The Complete Works of Saint John of the Cross, vol. 1, trans. E. Allison Peers (London; Burns, Oates & Washbourne, 1953), chap. 22, 169–70. 28 “The first, called śamatha in Sanskrit, is the step-by-step development of mental and physical calmness. The second, vipaśyanā, is the step-by-step heightening of awareness, sensitivity, and clarity of things [. . .] Śamatha, if taken to an extreme, leads to special trance states; these may be of value, but they are not the ultimate goal of Buddhism” (Shinzen Young, “Buddhist Meditation.” Appendix to The Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction, edited by Richard H. Robinson and Willard L. Johnson [Belmont: Wadsworth, 1982], 226–227). 29 Young, “Buddhist Meditation,” 233. 30 See Ben-Ami Scharfstein, Ineffability: The Failure of Words in Philosophy and Religion (Albany: SUNY Press, 1993); James, Varieties, 380–381.



Part Two: Emotion, Sensation, and Experience

We can illustrate the difference between these two experience types with two varying Sufi depictions of epiphanies by the ninth-century Sufi teacher al-Abu `Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Ali al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi. He speaks of dreams and divine revelations: A dream is mainly true, and it comes to transmit [to humans] information from the world of secrecy. God seeks to aid his servants with this information with good tidings, a warning, or a rebuke, so that they will use them to perform the matters that God calls [upon them] to do. The angel who compounds parables from [the divine] wisdom is appointed over dreams: he sees the happenings of men in a [hidden] tablet, which he copies and presents as a parable. When a man sleeps, his soul goes forth [and ascends on high]. These things, that are derived from [the divine] wisdom, appear before it, as good tidings, as a warning, or as a rebuke, so that people will see their matters with open eyes.31

A comparison of this passage with al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi’s personal testimony of what he experienced after participating in a Sufi dhikr ceremony draws into closer focus the difference between contentual revelations and experiences that cannot be described verbally or contentually, which we describe as inward focusing: . . . one night we gathered as guests at one of our brethren to perform dhikr recitations. When a certain amount of the night had passed, I set out for home. Along the way my heart [suddenly] became open in a manner which I am unable to describe. It was if something happened in my heart and I became happy and took delight in it. I felt joyful as I walked on, and nothing that I met with caused me fear, not even the dogs that barked at me. I liked their barking because of a pleasure I experienced in my heart. . . until the sky with its stars and its moon came down close to the earth. And while this was taking place, I invoked my Lord. I felt as if something was made upright in my heart, and when I experienced this sweetness, my interior twisted itself and contracted, and one part of it was twisted over the other because of the force of the pleasure and it was pressed together. This sweetness spread

31 Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Ali al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi, Nawadir al-usul fi ma’rifat ahadith al-Rasul (Beirut, 1876), chap. 77, 116.

Introduction: The Meaning of Ecstatic Experience  •  CHAPTER ONE

through my loins and through my veins. It seemed to me that I was close to the location of God’s Throne (makan al-`arsh).32

The distinction between profound religious experiences of visual and/ or verbal content and those of nonverbal or nonsymbolic content is not only a convenient means to arrange the material before us; in actuality, they are two disparate spiritual orientations, even if at times they coexist. One requires the existence of a sensual and/or verbal bond with God, while the other, either knowingly or unconsciously, denies such a connection. The rejection of the possibility of a verbal, symbolic tie with the divine sphere which the individual’s soul is to meet, as in the instance of John of the Cross or in medieval Jewish philosophy, exhibits religious rationalization. These two contradictory trends often are to be found in the same religious framework, as is the case of Hasidism. Such coexistence, however, cannot detract from the seeming rationalist domination of the second trend’s sources. Placing contentual and verbal religious experiences, both active and passive, on one side of the balance, and active or passive experiences without contentuality or verbality on the other, is meant to replace the distinction between rational religious experiences and mystic experiences as nonrational ones. The usual use of the terms “mysticism” or “mystic experience” to denote an inner occurrence that cannot be understood rationally is misleading, confusing, and superfluous. Seemingly rational religious phenomena which assume some penetration of the divine into man, such as Biblical prophecy, essentially make a nonrational assumption, since divine revelation is inconceivable in terms of rationalist thought. In contrast, nonverbal inner experiences, which are deemed in the world’s religions to be the mystical climax, can be given a rational explanation.33

32 Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Ali Al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi, “The Autobiography of the Theosophist of Tirmidh: The Beginning of the Affair of Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi (Bad’ sha’n Abi ‘Abd Allah Muhammad al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi),” in The Concept of Sainthood in Early Islamic Mysticism: Two Works by al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi, trans. Bernd Radke and John O’Kane (Richmond: Curzon, 1996), 21–22. 33 See, for example, David R. Blumenthal, Philosophic Mysticism: Studies in Rational Religion (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 2006). See also Robert K. C. Forman’s distinction between two types of mysticism: apophatic and kataphatic. The first type entails the voiding of the consciousness, and is independent of sensory language, while the second is characterized by the filling of the consciousness with sensory images and conceptions. See Forman, ““What Does Mysticism Have to Teach Us about Consciousness?,” Journal of Consciousness Studies 5, no. 2 (1998): 185–201.


Chapter Two

Prophecy, Dreams, and Other Paranormal Contentual Experiences

Verbal and Visual Paranormal Experiences in World Religions The world religions are replete with examples of paranormal experiences perceived by those undergoing them as various types of divine revelation. The revelation dreams known to us from the Bible have parallels in the Ancient Near East.1 The nature of Apollonian prophecy in Greece has already been described above.2 Biblical prophecy (discussed below) profoundly influenced Christian and Islamic thought. The Biblical expression kum lekh [“Arise, go”], which appears a number of times in prophetical contexts (Num. 22:2; I Kings 17:9; Jer. 3:6; Jonah 1:2, and more), can be heard in the words of Jesus in his revelation to Saul of Tarsus (Paul the Apostle): Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and 1 Ruth Fidler, “Dreams Speak Falsely”? Dream Theophanies in the Bible: Their Place in Ancient Israelite Faith and Tradition [Heb] (Jerusalem: Magnes, 2005), 340–60. 2 See above, introduction to part two, 167.


Part Two: Emotion, Sensation, and Experience

enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9:3–9).

Although it is stated that the people with Saul heard a voice but saw no one, his own experience is described as occurring when falling to the ground with closed eyes.3 In both spontaneous experiences attributed to an external cause and trance states intentionally reached in order to retrieve contents otherwise perceived as unavailable, the event itself takes place within the one experiencing it. The assumed existence of a supersensory reality alongside or within the normal reality facilitates the paranormal experience. The Quran in its entirety is perceived as a prophetic revelation to Muhammad. Medieval Arabic philosophy made great efforts to explain the nature of prophecy, which is understood as the inner activity of the imaginative power set in force by the active intellect, the Tenth Intellect, which was perceived as the lowest of the ten discrete intellects. These intellects are nonmaterial entities which emanate from God and control the cosmos and our world. Abu Nasr al-Farabi, who lived in Iraq (d. 950), defined prophecy as the highest level of imaginative power: It is not impossible, then, that when a man’s faculty of representation reaches its utmost perfection he will receive in his waking life from the Active Intellect present and future particulars of their imitations in the form of sensibles, and receive the imitations of the transcendent intelligibles and the other glorious existents and see them. This man will obtain through the particulars which he receives ‘prophecy’ (supernatural awareness) of present and future events, and through the intelligibles which he receives prophecy of things divine. This is the highest rank of perfection which the faculty of representation can reach.4

3 On the identification of possession with epilepsy since antiquity, see Dodds, Greeks, 83 n. 10. 4 Abu Nasr Al-Farabi, Al-Farabi on the Perfect State: Abu Nasr al-Farabi’s Mabadi’ Ara’ Ahl al-Madina al-Fadila, trans. Richard Walzer (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985), 224–25.

Prophecy, Dreams, and Other Paranormal Contentual Experiences  •  CHAPTER TWO

The Sufi philosopher al-Ghazzali (d. 1111), following al-Farabi, spoke of the centrality of imaginative power in revelation dreams: Know that the secrets of the [godly] kingdom are revealed to those of [pious] mind, whether by inspiration, that is, when something previously unknown to them comes down to them, or by a true dream or a waking dream, when the spiritual entities are revealed to them by means of images, similar to what happens while sleeping. [The revelation of secrets] is the highest level [on this path], and it is part of the highest levels of prophecy, just as a true dream is one [part] of the forty-six of prophecy.5

A fine example that aids in understanding the shamanist nature of paranormal phenomena is brought by Eliade in the report from 1648 by the archbishop Marcus Bandinus to Pope Innocent X. The archbishop portrayed “shamanist” phenomena among the villages of Moldavia at the time. Using incantations, the “sorcerer” brought himself to an ecstatic state which was expressed in physical trembling, resulting in unconsciousness that lasted for one, or even many, hours. Afterwards, in a lengthy process of awakening, which, too, was accompanied by physical trembling, the “sorcerer” regained his consciousness and related the dreams that he had seen, as if he were an oracle.6 As Bandinus attests, this technique was intentionally applied to aid people with assorted health, social, financial, and other problems. The “shaman” intentionally put himself into a trance so that his inner self, by means of intensive dreaming, could communicate with other worlds that would help in finding a solution to human distresses. This example shows that trances, which result from a conscious action to communicate with contents that, the shaman believed, could not be otherwise attained, are a form of interiorization. The shaman took actions meant to open him to a paranormal experience so that he could report on it to those around him, who were incapable of sharing such experiences with him. In the depths of the sources of the Amazon in Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil, an entire Indian culture exists which is based on imbibing ayahuasca brew, a concoction prepared by cooking the air roots and leaves of a tree by this name that grows in the jungle. The indigenous Indians conduct ceremonies that consist of immersion in the river, fasting, and singing before drinking the potion at night. After this they fall asleep and experience intense 5 Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad Al-Ghazzali, Ilya’ Ulum al-Din (The Resurrection of the Science of Religion), end of chap. 6. 6 Eliade, Zalmoxis, 191–94.



Part Two: Emotion, Sensation, and Experience

dreams—visions whose meanings are defined by the culture. The content of the dreams is interpreted by means of the Indians’ knowledge of the significance of the various sights revealed under the influence of the brew. Studies of ayahuasca culture have been conducted in recent decades and the psychologist Benny Shanon charted a methodological phenomenology of the ayahuasca experience.7 Like other hallucinogenic experiences, drinking ayahuasca is part of structured religious shamanist cultures such as those of the Amazon Indians. These experiences are expressed by inner symbolic visualization which guides the participant throughout his life.8 From the dawn of the history of religion, much attention has been given to the interpretation of dreams which were regarded as divine messages revealed in the inner soul of the dreamer. The content of symbolic-visual or verbal paranormal experiences, although reflecting supernatural states, is similarly linked to human life in this world. Prophecies, by their very nature, are of verbal, visual content directed to life in the world. Shamen in the Carpathian mountains used trances to help people in physical and mental distress. Jesus’ revelation to Paul completely changes the latter’s life and plans. Exceptional dreams usually relate to living or dead individuals with some connection to the world of the dreamer, and the dream messages usually pertain to the latter’s personal life.

Prophecy in the Bible and Religious Experience Various attempts have been made by Biblical scholars to explain Biblical prophecy as a type of ecstasy.9 Heschel, like Heiler,10 insisted that this claim ignores the unique nature of prophecy, which is always bound up with God’s interest in the world and in man. Ecstasy that implies a departure from the world, to the extent of intentional detachment from it such as Neoplatonic ecstasy, is directed from man outward; however, Biblical prophecy, so the opponents of its identification with ecstasy maintain, is from the outside Benny Shanon, The Antipodes of the Mind: Charting the Phenomenology of the Ayahuasca Experience (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). 8 On the sociological functions of the ecstatic experience, see Lewis, Ecstatic Religion. 9 See the survey of the scholarly literature in Benjamin Uffenheimer, “Prolegomena to the Problem of Prophecy and Ecstasy” [Heb], Bar-Ilan: Annual of Bar-Ilan University. Studies in Judaica and the Humanities 22–23 (1987): 45–62. 10 Heschel, Prophets, 24–66. Heiler differentiated between mystical and prophetic religion in Prayer, 135–71 and 227–85. 7

Prophecy, Dreams, and Other Paranormal Contentual Experiences  •  CHAPTER TWO

inward.11 Gershom Scholem adopted a similar stance: he totally divided the world of the Bible and Biblical prophecy from Jewish mysticism in the following periods.12 Idel, as well, despite his awareness of the objections raised by scholars such as Uffenheimer and others to the sharp Biblical prophecy-ecstasy division of Heschel, Heiler, and others,13 remained loyal to this approach. Idel, like many scholars before him, maintained that the Biblical God is a heavenly divinity who descends to humans to be revealed to them; He does not permit them to ascend to Him: [t]he biblical apprehension of the revelation is based upon the assumption that man as a psychosomatic entity cannot transcend his mundane situation and penetrate the divine realm, while God is able to adapt himself, and perhaps also his message, to human capacity. While the way down is open, the way up is basically closed.14

This understanding assumes, from the outset, that God-man relations in the Bible are an external relationship with no possibility of a breach from the inner to the outer, as happens in ecstatic states. The Biblical relationship between God and man can also be conceived in term of an encounter. God descends to man, and man ascends to God, and this meeting is enabled by the blurring of the boundaries between inner and outer that is typical of the Bible, and, indeed, all of the ancient world. What ancient man and the Biblical figure sensed in his inner soul was always perceived by him as an outer occurrence, whether this was a revelation that he saw as a natural event, or a voice speaking to him from within. Biblical thought, like that of ancient thought in general, does not assume different qualities for each of these dimensions. Meeting God in a dream is presented as tangibly as a waking encounter with Him. The Bible attests to nonecstatic inner experiences, in the sense of experiences that break out of the inner to the outer that also constitute a sort of meeting with God. 11 The citation from Dodds, Greeks, on the original sense of ecstasy (above, introduction to part two n. 3) reveals the limited nature of the position taken by Heschel and others, who mainly defined ecstasy in the sense of Plotinus’s writings, and not based on all the meanings this term was given in antiquity. 12 Scholem, Major Trends, 7–14; Joseph Dan, On Sanctity: Religion, Ethics and Mysticism in Judaism and Other Religions [Heb] (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1997), 31–34. My treatment of the subject of this chapter differs completely from that of Dan. 13 Idel, “Language of Ecstatic Experience,” 54. 14 Idel, Ascensions, 24.



Part Two: Emotion, Sensation, and Experience

Unlike these scholars, Henry Wheeler Robinson argued that even though the concept of ecstasy that is borrowed from Greek psychology does not suit the psychology of the Bible, it would be incorrect to detach Biblical prophecy from paranormal phenomena.15 After Saul’s anointment by Samuel, the latter tells him: “There, as you enter the town, you will encounter a band of prophets coming down from the shrine, preceded by lyres, timbrels, flutes, and harps, and they will prophesy. The spirit of the Lord will grip you, and you will speak in ecstasy along with them; you will become another man” (I Sam. 10:5–6). The exceptional ecstatic portrayal of the music players assumes that their prophesying results from the divine spirit which dwells within them and affects their inwardness. The importance of this description lies in its depiction of the act of prophesying as the entry of an external element (the spirit of the Lord) into man’s inner world. The prophesying of the sons of the prophets in the Bible is an act of an external spirit resting on man, as in the case of Saul, but this prophesying takes place with the playing of music, and perhaps also with the imbibing of intoxicants or hallucinogens that alter normal consciousness. Most of the prophetic chapters in the Bible are not of an ecstatic nature, as Heschel argued, in the sense that there was no breach exceeding the world, but rather an explicit divine revelation that befalls man. In at least one famous instance, the prophet’s self-depiction indicates that the prophecy occurs within: “I thought, ‘I will not mention Him, no more will I speak in His name’ but [His word] was like a raging fire in my heart, shut up in my bones; I could not keep it in, I was helpless” (Jer. 20:9). Jeremiah declares that the words of prophecy burst forth from within and that when he attempts to silence them because of the suffering they cause him, he feels an inner fire that compels him to break his silence. Interestingly, this prophecy ends with Jeremiah’s declaration: “O Lord of Hosts, You who test the righteous, who examine the heart and the mid, let me see Your retribution upon them, for I lay my case before You.”16 Similar to what God says of Himself in I Sam. 16:7: “man sees only what is visible; but the Lord sees into the heart,” Jeremiah consoles himself with the knowledge that God knows inner truth and therefore the correctness of his prophecy and this gives him the strength to stand against his opponents and enemies. The divine view

15 Robinson, “Hebrew Psychology,” 372–75. 16 Jer. 20:12; see also Jer. 11:20.

Prophecy, Dreams, and Other Paranormal Contentual Experiences  •  CHAPTER TWO

is the inner one, and therefore the more correct, in contrast with the outer, and misleading, perception. Revelation dreams provide additional support for the concept of inner prophecy in the Bible.17 Dreams occur within the psyche and the religious dream, in which God is revealed to the dreamer, is perceived in the Bible as an interim state between regular dreams and an outer message from the divine world. For the dreamer, this is a dream like any other, though it is one in which he encounters entities existent beyond himself.

The Dream, Prophecy, and Paranormal Experience in Jewish Sources The meaning of symbolic dreams has always been of interest to Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis, which appear to characterize all dreams as inherently illogical and symbolic. Zvi Giora showed that Freud and Jung were aware of the existence of “logical and understandable” dreams but denied their existence. He maintained that Freud yielded to the accepted dream stereotype that assumes that thought while asleep is completely different from waking thought, and ignored the existence of different types of dreaming.18 According to Giora: Many are troubled by the contradiction between the ancient dream stereotype and the knowledge that a considerable portion of dreams are no different from the products of waking thought, but no one has consented to define the dream stereotype as it is, as an obstacle and stumbling block to the psychology of dreams. But this was well-known, implicitly and without official recognition.19

If so, then revelation dreams of realistic, nonsymbolic content can be regarded as psychologically intelligible. Unlike all psychological approaches, the perception of dreams in the Bible, as well as in various tribal cultures,20 assumes that a dream contains a message sent from above, 17 On dreams and prophecy in Bible research, see Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich, Der Traum im Alten Testament (Berlin: Topelmann, 1953); Robert Karl Gnuse, The Dream Theophany of Samuel: Its Structure in Relation to Ancient Near Eastern Dreams and Its Theological Significance (Lanham: University Press of America, 1984); Fidler, “Dreams.” 18 Zvi Giora, The Dream and Human Nature [Heb] (Tel Aviv: Papyrus, 1982), 9–20. 19 Ibid., 18–19. 20 See esp. Lucien Levy-Bruhl, The Notebooks on Primitive Mentality, trans. Peter Riviere (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1975), 5 ff.; idem, Primitive Mentality, trans. L. A. Clare (New York: AMS Press, 1978), 8 ff.; Frankfort et al., Before Philosophy, 19–20.



Part Two: Emotion, Sensation, and Experience

and that it enables nonmundane experiences which are centered around the encounter with the divine. Moreover, what occurs and is spoken in the dream is deemed no less tangible than waking events. Nonetheless, it could be argued that a Biblical individual was aware that the dream occurs within him, although—unlike modern man, and similar to the ancient world— inner occurrences were not thought to be of different value from external events. The distinct boundaries between the objective and the subjective characteristic of modern thought did not exist for Biblical people. The fact that the ladder was revealed to Jacob in his dream at Bethel did not cause him to question his understanding that the place where he slept was the gate of Heaven, nor did he imagine that his dream was merely an expression of his inner thoughts. Just, however, as we cannot assume that in the Biblical and ancient worlds the inner negated the substantiality of the external revealed in it, there is no justification to surmise that in those worlds the dreamer did not acknowledge that the revealed happened within him. The very fact that the Biblical narrator emphasizes that these are revelation dreams, and not waking messages, attests to the distinction drawn between dream and waking episodes. An exceptionally fascinating instance is the hypnagogic dream in the narrative of Samuel and Eli in I Sam. 3.21 Uriel Simon wrote that this chapter is actually the story of Samuel’s consecration for prophecy, even though it differs from the usual features of consecration in the Bible.22 The description of the revelation to Samuel is not ecstatic, but depicts a state of hypnagogic dreaming. Samuel is merely drowsing and not fully asleep,23 and awakens upon hearing his name being called; he thinks that it is Eli who is calling him.24 The latter knows that he did not call Samuel and understands that what Samuel heard is an inner voice, that is, a voice that only Samuel can hear, which he therefore identifies as the word of the Lord. He teaches the youth to heed the divine voice by engaging Him in conversation. Unlike the youth’s running to Eli, that each time terminated his ability to listen to 21 Gnuse, Dream Theophany; Fidler, “Dreams,” 273–335. 22 Uriel Simon, “I Sam. III: A Youth’s Call to Prophecy” [Heb], in Proceedings of the Seventh World Congress of Jewish Studies, vol. 2: Studies in the Bible and the Ancient Near East, ed. David Krone (Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies, 1981), 85–93. 23 Isaac Lewin, The Psychology of Dream [Heb] (Tel Aviv: Dekel, 1980), 22–23. 24 Ruth Fidler, “The Shiloh Theophany (I Samuel 3)—A Case Study of the Liminal Report” [Heb], in Proceedings of the Twelfth World Congress of Jewish Studies, division A: The Bible and Its World, ed. Ron Margolin (Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies, 1999), 99–107.

Prophecy, Dreams, and Other Paranormal Contentual Experiences  •  CHAPTER TWO

the voice, with Eli’s help he learns to “know God,” that is, to know how to listen to the voice of God speaking to him.25 The unequivocal distinctions drawn by scholars such as Heschel and Heiler, who rejected any possibility of ascribing an inner aspect to Biblical prophecy, do not accord with modern studies that present a more complex picture, especially as regards Biblical revelation dreams. In “Dreams Speak Falsely”, Ruth Fidler examines Biblical revelation dreams in a comprehensive, up-to-date, and fundamental manner, focusing on Jacob’s salvation dreams (Gen. 28:10–12; 31:10–13; 46:1–5), the weak revelation to the nations model (Abimelech’s dream—Gen. 20:3–7; Laban’s dream—Gen. 31:24; the revelation to Balaam in Num. 22:9–20), and Solomon’s dream at Gibeon (I Kings 3:5–14). Fidler writes in the afterword of her book that, despite prophetic objections to dreams, prophetic strategies for relating to dream heritage are not uniform. She maintains that the appearance of revelation dreams in Biblical literature entails a belief in the possibility of bridging the distance between the divine and man, as well as a belief in dreams as a means of such bridging, similar to that seen in depictions of revelation dreams in the literature of the Ancient Near East.26 Fidler’s comparative research shows that the revelation dream, although directed to the public role of the dreamer, is unique in its personal guidance from God (thus, especially, in Jacob’s dreams) or in its granting (Solomon’s dream), that is delivered in personal terms and not in a national or dynastic sense, and that concentrates on the personal trait (wisdom) that the candidate himself chooses. The connection between God and His elect is portrayed as a personal, dynamic, and developing relationship. The valuation of dreams, and especially of these traditions, underwent changes in the circles of the prophets and sages. These prophets are not described in the Bible as dreamers, and they, for their part, direct the harshest rhetoric against the perception of dreams as the word of the Lord (such as Jer. 23:23–32; Zech. 10:2; Eccl. 4:17–5:6; Ben Sira 34:1–8; 40:7–9). Although this rhetoric appears consistent, in practice, the prophetic and wisdom literatures are fundamentally equivocal regarding dreams. This is evident from, for example, the dream of Samuel’s consecration, or certain literary descriptions of Abraham and Balaam as prophets, both of which reflect the 25 See I Sam. 3:7. 26 On such dreams, see Fidler, “Dreams,” 344–52 and 358–60.



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forms and contents of the revelation. The nocturnal or dreamlike revelation is frequently the means for an intimate tête-à-tête between God and the prophet meant solely for the receiving of personal directives (Balaam, Elijah at Horeb) and seems to continue the nature of the revelation dream as such guidance. In other instances, as in II Sam. 7:4, a prophetic message of national, religious, or political significance is delivered. Thus, the personal directive is expanded to public affairs.27 In summation, Fidler states: In essence, the direct rhetoric and the marginal description seem to be opposing ways for prophetic engagement with the dream heritage. For the former, the dream is the “straw” that grows in the same place as the “grain” (Jer. 23:28), but it should be separated from it and recognized for what it is, as something lacking in worth, as falsehood and delusion. In contrast, the marginal description—in prophecy, but also in wisdom and in apocalypse, affirms the revelation dream, at times combined with the dramatic prophetic revelation (Gen. 15:9–18; Job 4:12–21; Dan. 10:8–12:4; as contrasted with Jer. 23:29), for a multitude of new situations and roles in the literature and faith of Israel.28

According to Num. 12:6, a vision of God in dreams is the routine way by which God is revealed to the prophet: “When a prophet of the Lord arises among you, I make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak to him in a dream.”29 Moses’s dream is exceptional in that it is based on God’s speaking directly to Moses while awake and not in a dream: “Not so with My servant Moses; he is trusted throughout my household. With Him I speak mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of the Lord” (vv. 7–8). The contents of the revelation dream are realistic but the fact that they are brought as the word of the Lord transforms it into an exceptional dream of tremendous force, whose nature is to be known from an inner awareness that enables one to be cognizant of its prophetic content. The fact that most of the written prophecies are written as direct, waking revelation attests that they and their scribes perceived themselves as close to Moses’ prophetic level as portrayed in Num. 12. This does not negate the Biblical 27 Ibid., 338–40. 28 Ibid., 340. 29 On the prophecy models connected with visions in the Bible and in the apocalyptic literature, see Haviva Pedaya, “Seeing, Falling, Song and Longing—Seeing God and the Spiritual Element in Early Jewish Mysticism” [Heb], Asufot 9 (1995): 239–59.

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connection between prophecy and the development of attentiveness to the dream as a means of revelation as in the case of Samuel, since his initial prophecy and consecration occurred in his dream at Shiloh.30 The speech by Elihu son of Barachel in the book of Job, as well, expresses the central understanding at the basis of this perception: “For God speaks time and again—though man does not perceive it—in a dream, a night vision, when deep sleep falls on men, while they slumber on their beds. Then He opens men’s understanding, and by disciplining them leaves His signature” (Job 33:14–16). Revelation as a personal event that occurs in a dream in which God opens the person’s understanding reflects the perception of the dream experience as a tangible event taking place in the individual’s psyche which conducts a dialogue with God while in a dream state. The question of God’s location is secondary here. We gain the impression that in the worldview of the Biblical character, God can enter into man’s inner self and speak from it. This possibility is perceived in the Bible, as in the portrayal of Saul’s prophesying, as (Joel 3:1) “I will pour out My spirit on all flesh.” The various Biblical passages that object to dreams do not necessarily invalidate the revelation dream.31 These verses could be doubtful and critical of the identification of plain dreams as revelatory, on the one hand, while, on the other, they can be seen as being generally negative toward dreams. From this latter perspective, the perception of the dream as inner revelation is patently not self-understood and accepted in every case in the Bible. Nonetheless, there is a certain continuity between the Biblical dream and the waking prophecy. By the same coin, we can speak of a connection between prophecy and the ecstatic phenomena in the Bible.32 Moses voices his positive 30 Moshe Elat brings an example from the Akkadian culture that parallels the dream of Samuel: Sargon, the cup-bearer in the temple of the goddess Ezina, dreams that the goddess drowns the king Ur-Zababa, whom he served, in a river of blood. See Elat, Samuel and the Foundation of Kingship in Ancient Israel [Heb] (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1998), 30–31. Sargon prophesies about his dream to his own benefit, that is, so he can succeed the king. In contrast, the primary importance of Samuel’s dream lies in Eli’s acceptance of the revelation, marking the beginning of Samuel’s prophetic career. “Samuel grew up and the Lord was with him: He did not leave any of Samuel’s predictions unfulfilled. All Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, knew that Samuel was trustworthy as a prophet of the Lord. And the Lord continued to appear at Shiloh: the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel at Shiloh with the word of the Lord” (I Sam. 3:19–21). 31 See Deut. 13:2–6; Jer. 23:26–27; Zech. 10:2; Eccl. 5:6. 32 Hollenback attributes Moses’s initial prophecy to a distinctly paranormal state: “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire out of a bush. He gazed, and there



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stance regarding ecstasy in the episode of Eldad and Medad.33 The narrative of the band of prophets with Samuel standing by them is not the only example in the Bible of the evident ecstatic nature of this group.34 Classical prophecy’s assumption of direct speech between God and the prophet, as in Moses’ prophecy, requires further explication but it does not negate the fundamental connection between prophecy and revelation dreams and the ecstatic states mentioned above. Maimonides, similar to al-Farabi, assumed that prophecy is an emanation coming from God by means of the Active Intellect, initially on the rational faculty and afterwards on the imaginative faculty.35 He devoted an extensive discussion to the prophecy-dream connection: As for a vision—as in “I do make Myself known unto him in a vision” [Num. 12:6]—it is that which is called a “vision of prophecy” and likewise called the “hand of the Lord” and “sight” [mahazeh]. It is a fearful terrifying state, which comes to a prophet when he is awake. . . . In a state such as this the senses too cease to function, and the overflow in question comes to the rational faculty and overflows from it to the imaginative faculty so that the latter becomes perfect and performs its function. Prophetic revelation begins sometimes with a vision of prophecy. Thereupon the terror and the strong affection consequent upon the perfection of the action of the imaginative faculty become intensified and then prophetic revelation comes, as is recounted of Abraham. . . . Know with regard to all the prophets, concerning whom it is mentioned that prophetic revelation has come to them, that some ascribe it to an angel while others ascribe it to God, though indubitably it was produced through the agency of an angel. The Sages, may their memory be blessed, have expressed this by saying: “’And the Lord said unto her’ [Gen. 25:23]—through the agency of an angel.”36 Know again that in the case of everyone about whom exists a scriptural text that an angel talked to him or

was a bush all aflame, yet the bush was not consumed” (Exod. 3:2); see Hollenback, Mysticism, 56–57. 33 Num. 11:24–29. 34 I Sam. 19:19–24. See also the episode with Micaiah son of Imlah and the prophets in I Kings 22:5–28. 35 Maimonides, Guide 2:36 (trans.: Moses ben Maimon, The Guide, 369) 36 Gen. Rabbah 63:7. See Bereshit Rabbah, ed. Julius Theodor and Chanoch Albeck (Jerusalem, 1996), 684.

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that speech came to him from God, this did not occur in any other way than in a dream or in a vision of prophecy.37

Symbolic Dreams in the Bible, the Apocrypha, and Rabbinic Literature While the divine contents of Biblical revelation dreams are perceived as external intervention that is absorbed in the individual’s inner world, interiorization plays a greater role in regular symbolic dreams. According to the researcher of the psychology of dreams Isaac Lewin, the Bible adopts an interiorizing approach to the normal dream, since it views dreams as an expression of the dreamer’s inner desires. The response of Jacob and his sons to Joseph’s dreams supports this argument, since they dismissively call Joseph “that dreamer” (Gen. 37:19).38 The dreams discussed up to now are revelatory. Symbolic dreams, which appear mainly in Genesis, Judges, and Daniel,39 and in the Apocrypha, especially in II Apocalypse of Baruch and IV Ezra,40 should be examined as part of the broad culture of dream interpretation that was quite common throughout the ancient world. Jung explained symbolic dreams, not only by means of the causal observation developed by Freud, but also with purposive observation. According to Jung, intent stands behind overt behavior in all psychological phenomena. He therefore asked, what role does the dream play and what does it come to achieve, and not only what were its causes and which repressed desires it answers, as Freud sought to discover. Jung deepened and expanded Freud’s conception regarding the compensatory nature of dreams. He describes Nebuchadnezzar’s dream depicted in Dan. 4:7–10 as an unequivocal attempt to compensate for the king’s megalomania, which would later descend into actual madness. For Jung, Daniel’s explanation confirms the existence of ancient knowledge on the

37 Maimonides, Guide 2:41, (see Wolfson, A Dream Interpreted within a Dream, 109–142 ). 38 See Lewin, “Meaning of the Dream,” 22–23. Lewin finds support for his argument in Isa. 29:8: “Like one who is hungry and dreams he is eating, but wakes to find himself empty.” 39 Gen. 37:5–6; 39:9–13, 16–19; 41:1–7; Judg. 7:13–14; Dan. 2:4. 40 IV Ezra 9–11 (in Vulgate: 11–13); II Apocalypse of Baruch 1:36–43, 53, 56–74. On visions in the Apocrypha, see Urbach, Sages, 1:14.



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compensatory nature of dreams.41 Unlike Freud’s narrow interpretation of dreams, Jung revealed the internalizing nature of dream resolution that had begun in antiquity. At times the ancient world’s explanation of symbolic dreams was based on clearly technical means, as we can also see from some of the dicta in BT Berakhot 55a-57b that are devoted to dreams.42 This might possibly explain some of the reasons for rejecting any attempt to interpret symbolic dreams (in contrast with revelation dreams), which is precisely what Ben-Sira does: He who seeketh vanity findeth delusion, And dreams elate fools. As one catching at a shadow and pursuing the wind, So is he that trusteth in dreams. Alike are mirror and dream, The likeness of a face opposite a face. From the unclean what can be clean, And from the false what can be true? Divinations and soothsayings and dreams are vain; Even as thou hopest (so) seeth thy heart. If they be not sent from the Most High providentally, Do thou pay them no heed. For many there are that have been led astray by dreams, And through placing their hopes thereon have fallen. Without deceit shall the Law be fulfilled, And Wisdom is perfect in a mouth that is faithful.43

Gen. Rabbah sets R. Abbahu’s negative position that “dreams have no importance one way or the other”44 next to the Biblical verses depicting

41 Carl G. Jung, “General Aspects of Dream Psychology,” in The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, trans. R. F. C. Hull (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), 237–80. 42 On the rabbis’ understanding of dreams, see Abraham Arzi, “Dreams in the Talmud,” in Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed. (Jerusalem: Keter), vol. 6 ( col. 9). 43 Ben-Sira 34:1–8 (trans.: Sirach, 433–34). 44 Gen. Rabbah 68:12; T Ma‘aser Sheni 5:9; PT Ma‘aser Sheni 4:9; BT Sanhedrin 30a; Gittin 52a; Horayot 13b; Lam. Rabbah 1:17.

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Jacob’s dream. This juxtaposition might be meant to highlight the difference between revelation dreams45 and symbolic ones.

Positions Favorable to Dreams in Rabbinic Literature As a general rule, the criticisms of dream interpretation in the rabbinic literature are to be read in their cultural-historical context,46 not necessarily as opposing the psychological interiorization orientation, and perhaps even as supportive of it. A study of the views that seem to tend to skepticism, such as the statements by R. Hisda and R. Samuel bar Nahmani in the name of R. Jonathan in BT Berakhot, teaches that, to the contrary, they could serve as the basis for psychological interiorization approaches as opposed to merely technical methods. In effect, these approaches encourage the interpretation of dreams as a gateway to man’s soul, in the spirit of the modern research of dreams. “R. Hisda said: A dream that is not interpreted is as a letter that is unread.”47 Rashi comments: “Neither good nor bad, for all dreams follow their interpretation,” but the metaphor of a dream as a letter attests to a deeper psychological conception. Although if a letter is unread, it is as if it had never been written, the perception of a dream as a letter means, in Jungian terms, that it has a purposive motive, and “wants to say something,” but this statement becomes meaningful only if deciphered. Accordingly, R. Hisda’s negativity undoubtedly differs from that expressed by the prophet Zechariah: “and dreamers speak lies” (Zech. 10:2). R. Samuel bar Nahmani said in the name of R. Jonathan: A man is shown in a dream only what is suggested by his own thoughts [hirhurei lev], as it is said [Dan. 2:29], “O king, your thoughts came into your mind on your bed.” Or if 45 “Raba said: The Holy One, blessed be He, said, Even though I have hidden My face from them, I shall speak in a dream” (BT Hagigah 5b); “A dream is one-sixtieth of prophecy” (BT Berakhot 57a; Gen. Rabbah 17:5; 44:17). See Urbach, “When Did Prophecy Cease” [Heb], Tarbiz 17 (1945): 1–11; idem, “Halakhah and Prophecy” [Heb], Tarbiz 18 (1947): 23–27 (the appendix on the Heavenly voice). 46 “There were twenty-four interpreters of dreams in Jerusalem. Once I dreamed a dream and I went about to all of them. They all gave different interpretations, and all were fulfilled, thus confirming what is said: All dreams follow the mouth” (BT Berakhot 55b). See also Avigdor Shinan, “The Dream in Midrash and the Midrash of the Dream” [Heb], in The Spectrum of Opinions and Worldviews on Dreams in Jewish Culture, ed. Dror Kerem (Jerusalem: Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sport, 1995), 48. 47 BT Berakhot 55b.



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you like, I can derive this from here [v. 30]: “that you may know the thoughts of your mind.” Raba said: Know [i.e., this is proved by the fact] that a man is never shown in a dream a date palm of gold, or an elephant going through the eye of a needle.48

The statements by R. Jonathan and Raba seem quite close to Jung’s understanding of Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. This interpretation is based on the assumption that dreams, which originate in the psychological world of the dreamer, reveal repressed contents but also serve behavioral ends hidden by the subconscious. From this viewpoint, the interpretation of symbolic dreams (that, according to Jung, can be aided by the broad interpretation of archetypical symbols) is an act of interiorization meant to aid the dreamer in gleaning from his dream meanings that are essential for his existence, while being aware that this is not a distinctly revelatory or prophetic dream.49 Some of the rabbinic expositions of Jacob’s dream clearly demonstrate the interiorization of the paranormal experience in the world of the rabbis: “For the sun had set” [Gen. 28:11]—the Rabbis said: As the sun had set. This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, had caused the sun to set prematurely, in order to speak privately with our father Jacob. This is comparable to a king’s close friend who visits him occasionally. The king ordered: “Extinguish the lamps, that I may speak with my friend privately.” Thus the Holy One, blessed be He, caused the sun to set prematurely, in order to speak privately with our father Jacob.50

The comparison stresses the intimate and internalized nature of Jacob’s dream. The rabbis interpret the words “Va-yifga ba-makom” (v. 11—”and lay down in that place”; literally, “and he met/came into contact with the 48 Ibid. In the Zohar, hirhurei lev are not contrary to prophecies of the future: “What is the meaning of [Job 33:15]: ‘In a dream, a night vision’? When men lie on their beds and sleep, and one’s soul leaves him, this is the meaning of [vv. 15–16] ‘while they slumber on their beds. Then He open’s men’s understanding.’ The Holy One, blessed be He, informs the soul, in the level responsible for dreaming, what will happen in the future in the world. These are things that come from thoughts [hirhurei lev], so that a person will receive rebuke from things in the world” (Zohar, 1:183a). According to the Zohar, both prophecies of the future and thoughts are revealed in dreams, with the joint purpose of reproaching the individual so that he will mend his ways. 49 See a summation in a similar spirit in Lewin, “Meaning of the Dream,” 34. For additional examples of the rabbis’ attitude to dreams, see Shinan, “Dream in Midrash,” 43–61. 50 Gen. Rabbah 68:10.

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place”) as his coming into contact with God, who is called Ha-Makom [the Omnipresent, based on the belief that He is in every place]. This exegesis therefore presents Jacob’s dream as a model of the encounter between man and God in a dream, which is the fruit of man’s desire-prayer [Rashi: “’Va-yifga—our masters interpreted this as meaning prayer”].51 Unlike the simple reading that God’s revelation to Jacob in a dream is an external one-time event, the comparison presents a completely different state of affairs. The king and his close friend customarily speak together in an inner place that is hidden from people’s eyes. The darkness that enables the dream shows that the encounter between man and God occurs in an inner place that is hidden and intimate. It occurs on occasion, when the king’s friend comes to visit his beloved king who is always in his palace/world. The friend takes the initiative, and the beloved king responds with darkness and privacy, namely, the inner meeting in the dream.52 The meaning of the interiorization of the revelation in Jacob’s dream described in the preceding exegesis is amplified by an exposition that compares Ps. 63:2–3 with Jacob’s dream: “And the Lord was standing beside him” [Gen. 28:13]—R. Eleazar, in the name of R. Yose bar Zimra, commenced: “My soul thirsts for You, my body yearns for You” [Ps. 63:2]. R. Ibo said: Like mushrooms that yearn for rain. The Rabbis explained: As my soul thirsts for You, so too do the two hundred and forty-eight limbs which I possess thirst for You. Where? “In a parched and thirsty land that has no water” [ibid.]; “So I shall behold You in the sanctuary [ba-kodesh]” [v. 3]—so I shall behold You in sanctity [bi-kdushah]; “and see Your might” [ibid.]—this refers to Your heavenly retinue, “and angels of God” [Gen. 28:12]; “and Your glory [Ps. 63:3]—”And the Lord was standing beside him.”53

51 The presentation of the setting of the sun as changing the order of nature (a solar eclipse in the middle of the day: see Rashi, s.v. “Va-Yifga ba-Makom”) is meant to emphasize that sleeping in a holy place is an act of affinity between the righteous individual and God, which marks God’s granting of the man’s request. See also BT Sanhedrin 95b. 52 I offer a broader interpretation than Yitzhak Baer’s Platonic understanding, one that does not require such closeness to Platonic thought. According to Baer, “the aggadist speaks of revelation in the psyche of the one who awaits such revelation. The outer light fades, so that God’s true light can shine in the soul.” See Baer, “On the Problem of Eschatological Doctrine during the Period of the Second Temple: Dialectics and Mysticism in the Founding of the Halacha,” Zion 23–24 (1958–1959): 105. 53 Gen. Rabbah 69:1.



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The comparison presents Jacob’s dream as the realization of his longing for living and tangible contact with God in the spirit of the Psalmist in Ps. 63, with the ladder dream being the answer to his yearnings.

Dream Requests and the Status of Dreams in the Kabbalistic World Dreams were of great interest in the world of the Kabbalists.54 The Zohar sees the dream as an event that occurs after the soul has departed from the body during sleep: “For a person is not informed while he [i.e., the soul] is [still] within the body, as we said, rather, the angel informs the soul, and the soul, the man, for the dream comes from above, when the souls depart from the bodies, and ascend, each according to its degree.”55 It would seem implausible to posit an inner conception of dreams when they are perceived as resulting from the soul’s departure from the body, but the Kabbalah’s occupation with dream requests, despite their magical nature,56 teaches of an inner dimension in the Kabbalistic understanding of dreams. The assumed capability of adjuring the angel of dreams to effect a dream that will include an answer to a troubling issue means that man, and especially his inner will, is capable of generating the desired dream. Inner attentiveness to revelation dreams, which originated in the Bible, developed in Kabbalism into a culture of “dream requests,” that reached its peak in the fifteenth century, as is reflected in the numerous manuscripts referring to Sefer ha-Meshiv.57 Idel maintains that this is a tremendous literary corpus mostly to be found in thousands of pages of manuscripts, that are only a small portion of a much more extensive literature that is not 54 See, for example, Hayyim Vital, Sefer ha-Hezyonot (Jerusalem: Machon ben Zvi, 1988); Werblowsky, Joseph Karo, 41–46. For a survey of dreams in mystical thought, see Rachel Elior, “Reality in the Test of Fiction: Dreams in Mystical Thought—the Freedom of Disassociation and Combination” [Heb], in The Spectrum of Opinions and Worldviews on Dreams in Jewish Culture, ed. Dror Kerem, 63–79 (Jerusalem: Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sport, 1995), Also see Elliot R. Wolfson, “Weeping, Death, and Spiritual Ascent in Sixteenth Century Jewish Mysticism,” in Death, Ecstasy, and other Worldly Journeys, eds. J. J. Collins and M. Fishbane (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995), 210, 217–218, 231–233. 55 Zohar 1:183a. 56 Werblowsky, Joseph Karo, 48. 57 See, inter alia, Gershom Scholem, “The ‘Divine Mentor’ of Rabbi Yosef Taitazak and the Revelations Attributed to Him” [Heb], Sefunot 11 (1971–1978): 69–112; Georges Vajda, “Passages antichretiens dans Kaf Ha-Qetoret,” Revue de l’histoire des religions 117 (1980): 45–58; Moshe Idel, “Inquiries into the Doctrine of Sefer Ha-Meshiv” [Heb], Sefunot 17 (1983): 185–266.

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extant. In Nocturnal Kabbalists, Idel describes the techniques employed by the members of this circle to persuade the Holy One, blessed be He, and the angels to reveal themselves in their dreams. He quotes R. Abraham ben Eliezer ha-Levi: For those who are knowledgeable regarding the discourse of the ministering angels about a dream request or a waking dream know that at times the responding angel replies with a sufficiently clear answer, at other times with an allusion (and the answer is doubtful and unclear), and at yet other times, there is no response. For the ministering angels are not required to respond to every querier, and certainly when the querier asks a question that should not be asked, or when the respondent does not have permission to reveal, or does not know [the answer], for not everything is known to the ministering angels.58

Sefer ha-Meshiv is based on the traditions known in Kabbalistic circles of Elijah revealing himself to the early righteous ones.59 In the following passage, the Holy One, blessed be He, describes the revelation process to the Kabbalist: The secret of God revealed by Elijah: when he ascended to Heaven, here was the spiritual power of the angel, to actually go and assume corporeality, and descend to this base world in which you dwell, to perform miracles or to reveal My strength and My might in the world. He brings down My strength by the force of My great name in which he is included. Despite [the knowledge of] this great secret [usually resulting in death], he did not die, so that he would reveal My secret by force of My names, which is called “for a bird of the air may carry the utterance” [Eccl. 10:20], and one should not think of this. [This great divine secret] was revealed to the early pious ones, actually in a spiritual body clothed and materialized in the material, and they would speak with him. Because of their piety, he [Elijah] would be revealed to them in body and soul. Consequently, my [i.e., Elijah’s] force descends to those who dream a dream by means of speech and voice. This is the [secret] meaning of “your wisdom and discernment to other peoples” [Deut. 4:6]. My strength is bound up with him [i.e., Elijah], who is bound up 58 Iggeret Sod ha-Geulah (Epistle of the Secret of Redemption), MS. Oxford, Bodleian Library 2569, fol. 47a (cited by Moshe Idel, Nocturnal Kabbalists [Heb], trans. Nir Ratskovski [Jerusalem: Carmel, 2006], 47–48). 59 On the appearance of Elijah [gilui Eliyahu], see Werblowsky, Joseph Karo, 269.



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with your souls, and reveals the secrets of the Torah to you without [divine] speech [= prophecy].60

As Idel explains, the Kabbalistic conception of the dream assumes the existence of two theologies, existing side by side: a transcendental theology, that is perceived as the source of the message, and an immanent one, that is regarded as what enables God and His message to penetrate reality and reach human consciousness. God’s direct presence in the world is not permanent, nor is it pantheistic. It is made possible in those moments of encounter that are not solely a divine initiative, but are also the result of human volition. Dreams are the venue for meetings that in the past would occur when awake. They are comparable to prophecy, which in the past provided knowledge; and the Kabbalists seek to restore this knowledge to the world by certain actions and by dream requests. According to Idel, The medieval practices of the exploration of the hidden, that replaced the early Hebrew prophecy, that was occupied with more moral and national issues, arose from anew in the fifteenth century and afterwards with amazing force . . . the anomic techniques, as they are expressed also in instructions to receive a predictive dream, came to occupy a place of importance in the Kabbalah as the centuries passed, and transformed the bodies of these individuals and the inner personal processes into “temples” in which to encounter God.61

Torah Study as Revelation and the Revelation of Secrets: Between the World of the Tannaim and Learning Experience in the Zohar The midrashic works Cant. Rabbah and Lev. Rabbah contain a portrayal of Ben Azzai enveloped in fire as he in engaged in Torah study: Ben Azzai would sit and expound, and the blazing fire was around him. They asked him: Perhaps you are engaged in the ways of the Merkabah [the Heavenly Chariot]? He replied: No, I rather draw parallels between the words of the Torah and the Prophets, and between the Prophets and the Hagiographa, and the words of the Torah are as joyful as the day that they

60 Sefer ha-Meshiv, MS. Jerusalem 147 8o, fol. 96b (cited by Idel, Nocturnal Kabbalists, 50–51); punctuation added—R. M. 61 Idel, Nocturnal Kabbalists, 79–80.

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were given at Sinai. Their heart was given in fire. This is what is written: “The mountain was ablaze with flames” [Deut. 4:11].62

In the picture painted by the midrashim, Ben Azzai’s study of Torah was experiential, and not routine, expressing a dimension of revelation in study; thus, the comparison between the fire at the Revelation at Sinai and the fire that glowed around Ben Azzai as he was engrossed in his study. The question “Perhaps you are engaged in the ways of the Merkabah?” hints at the tradition from tractate Hagigah of the Babylonian Talmud, which presents Ben Azzai as one of the four who entered the garden [pardes]. We may assume that the depiction of Ben Azzai’s study as a revelatory experience, as was evident from the fire enveloping the place of the revelation, expresses the desire to expand the revelatory experience ascribed to the esoteric occupation with the secrets of the Godhead to Torah study as a whole. It presumably could be argued that the mention of the Revelation at Sinai emphasizes the outer aspect of the description. Ben Azzai’s Torah study gladdens the Torah and its Giver, and the fire blazing around is a manifestation of divine joy, an external confirmation of the worth of Ben Azzai’s study that is not necessarily indicative of any special occurrence in his inner world, beyond the high value of his study. A closer look at the parallel narratives (that appear in tractate Hagigah before the tale of the four Tannaim who entered the garden) of Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai and his student R. Eleazar ben Arakh and of R. Joshua and R. Yose ha-Kohen, who studied Ma‘aseh Merkabah [the esoteric knowledge of the Divine Chariot] and fire descended from Heaven, shows that this depiction is not just outer: Our masters taught: Once Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai was riding on an ass when going on a journey, and R. Eleazar ben Arakh was driving the ass from behind. He [R. Eleazar] said to him, “My master, teach me a chapter of Ma‘aseh Merkabah.” He [Rabban Johanan] replied: “Did I not teach you thus: ‘Not the Merkabah in the presence of one, unless he be a sage who understands of his own knowledge’?” He [R. Eleazar] said to him: “My Master, permit me to say before you something that you have taught me.” He [Rabban Johanan] replied: “Say it.” Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai immediately dismounted from the ass, wrapped himself up [in his tallit], and sat on a stone beneath an olive tree. He [R. Eleazar] said to him, “My master, why did you dismount 62 Cant. Rabbah 1:11, on the verse “Your cheeks are comely with plaited wreaths, your neck with strings of pearls” (Cant. 1:10). Also see Lev. Rabbah 16:4, ed. Margulies, 354– 55. See Yehuda Liebes, The Sin of Elisha [Heb] (Jerusalem: Akademon, 1990), 107–109.



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from the ass?” He [Rabban Johanan] replied: “Is it proper that while you are expounding Ma‘aseh Merkabah, with the Divine Presence with us, and ministering angels accompanying us, I should ride on the ass?” R. Eleazar ben Arakh immediately began his exposition of Ma‘aseh Merkabah, and fire descended from Heaven and encompassed all the trees in the field. They all began to utter song. What song did they utter? “Praise the Lord, O you who are on earth, all sea monsters and ocean depths” [Ps. 148:7], “all fruit trees and cedars” [v. 9], “Hallelujah.” An angel answered from the fire and said: This is the very Ma‘aseh Merkabah. Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai stood, kissed him on his head, and said: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who has given a son to Abraham our father, who is capable of understanding, investigating, and expounding Ma‘aseh Merkabah. There are some who preach well but do not act well, and others who act well but do not preach well. But you preach well and act well. Happy are you, Abraham our father, that R. Eleazar ben Arakh came forth from your loins.” When this was told to R. Joshua, he and R. Yose ha-Kohen were going on a journey. They said: “We, too, shall expound Ma‘aseh Merkabah.” R. Joshua commence and expounded, and that day was the summer solstice [literally, “the solstice of Tammuz,” when clouds were not expected]. The heavens became overcast with clouds, and a sort of rainbow appeared. The ministering angels assembled and came to listen, as people who assemble and come to see the musical entertainments for the groom and bride. R. Yose ha-Kohen went and related what had happened before R. Johanan ben Zakkai. He [R. Johanan] said: “Happy are you, and happy is she who bore you; happy are my eyes that have seen this. Moreover, in my dream I and you were reclining; we were on Mount Sinai, when a heavenly voice was sent to us, [saying]: Ascend hither, ascend hither. [Here are] great banquet chambers and fine dining couches prepared for you, you and your student, and your students’ students are invited to the third class.”63

The words of the angel: “This is the very Ma‘aseh Merkabah,” the comparison of R. Joshua’s exposition to musical wedding entertainments, and the dream of R. Johanan ben Zakkai in which the sages are invited to the heavenly banquet chamber—the meaning of all this is that the expounding of Ma‘aseh Merkabah is an act of communication and joining with the supernal world. The fire descending from Heaven is an expression of the divine response to the human attempt to approach God by studying His Torah and, especially, by studying His secrets, called “Ma‘aseh Merkabah” 63 BT Hagigah 14b.

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by the rabbis. The fire is not only external confirmation—it comes in response to the spiritual effort made by the sages who seek to enter into the secrets of the divine world. Their experience of revelation while uncovering the secret is reflected in the fire. In A River Flows from Eden, Melila Hellner-Eshed argues for the existence of a spiritual experience unique to the Zohar, which is not identical to what is described in the medieval mystical literature as a structured ascent on a spiritual ladder.64 She maintains that this singular experience is bound up with the Torah study of the Companions of the Zohar. She depicts it as a “experiential wave” that begins with the unique contemplation of biblical verses, undertaken with a special intention. Amid the exegetical process, in which the verses are expounded by different speakers, this contemplation intensifies. The accumulated tension generates moments of mystical ecstasy—moments of insight, innovation, exultation of the soul, powerful emotional responses, and sometimes even the experience of contact with the divine world. After these peak moments there follows a conscious closure, a quieting and sealing of the experience.65

Hellner-Eshed brings two examples from the Zohar to demonstrate this experience unique to it: the narrative of causing rain to fall in the portion of Aharei Mot (Zohar 3:62a), and that of Kfar Tarsha in Lekh Lekha (1:94b). She also includes in this context the ecstatic portrayals of studying the death of the three participants in the Idra Rabba [Great Assembly] and the manner of R. Simeon’s passing from the world. The Zohar relates in Aharei Mot: So it was, for that day the Companions saw the face of Shekhinah and were encompassed by fire. Rabbi Abba’s face blazed in fire from rapture of Torah.

64 See Judah ben Moses Albotini, Sulam ha-Aliyah. Cf., for example, John of the Cross’s depiction of the ladder of ascent at the end of his book Dark Night of the Soul, in The Complete Works of Saint John of the Cross, vol. 1, chaps. 19–25, 435–57. 65 Melila Hellner-Eshed, A River Flows from Eden: The Language of Mystical Experience in the Zohar, trans. Nathan Wolski (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), 310. A different method of portraying the ecstatic or revelatory experiences in Kabbalistic writings, including the Zohar, is offered by Haviva Pedaya, Vision and Speech: Models of Revelatory Experience in Jewish Mysticism [Heb] (Los Angeles: Cherub, 2002), 91–136. See my discussion of Pedaya’s approach below, chapter three, 237–39.



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It has been taught: All that day, none of them left the house, and the house was swathed in smoke. Words among them were fresh and ecstatic as if they were receiving Torah that very day from Mount Sinai! When they departed they did not know if it was day or night.66

For Hellner-Eshed, this is a prime example of Zoharic mystical experience, that is, a moderate experience resulting from the exegetical act of the Companions of the Zohar. The experience includes seeing the countenance of the Divine Presence, the appearance of the fire, radiant faces, experiencing the Revelation at Sinai, and the loss of a sense of time. Despite acknowledging some similarities between the Zoharic descriptions and those from the world of the rabbis,67 she tends to distinguish between the two. In my opinion, the spirit of the rabbinic narratives cited above reverberates throughout the Zohar. Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai’s dream in Tractate Hagigah that hints of a supernal coupling awaiting Torah scholars exerted tremendous influence on the style of the Zohar. The uniqueness of the Zoharic depictions in this example lies in the wording “Words among them were fresh and ecstatic as if they were receiving Torah that very day from Mount Sinai.” The Companions rejoiced because the revelation of these secrets in their study was, for them, like the Revelation at Sinai. While the venue of the occurrence is unclear in the rabbinic story, and could be understood as either an outer or inner event, the Zoharic tale is infused with an awareness that this experience is within the individual soul. In the Zohar’s account, R. Abba’s glowing face is linked to the preceding statement that that day the Companions saw the countenance of the Divine Presence and were encompassed by fire. This link alludes to the manner in which the Zohar understands the encircling fire. This is not external fire, but an inner one that enkindles the faces of those engaged in study. In the Ascent of Mount Carmel, John of the Cross speaks of a type of revelation that is the unveiling of mysteries and concealed secrets. Revelatory experience in the Zohar is portrayed in a unique manner, but it should be viewed as a specific case among the entire corpus of esoteric experiences to which the rabbis allude, and that are conveyed in other cultures as well, as in the work by John of the Cross. The Zohar’s use of the word raza [secret] to describe clearly verbal contents that contain information regarding God 66 Zohar 1:94b. For English translation see English edition: The Zohar, vol. 2, trans. Daniel C. Matt (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), 98. 67 See, for example, Hellner-Eshed, River Flows from Eden, 304–308.

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and man68 presents the Zoharic experience as accompanied by study. These verbal secrets, that expose the Kabbalistic theosophy of the Zohar, resemble the knowledge taught by the Gnostic sages, who ascribe to their study the ability to escape the enslavement of this world. Unlike, however, the Gnostics, the sages of the Zohar seek to use Kabbalistic secrets for theurgic ends, that is, the rectification of the supernal orbs in order to draw down the beneficial emanations to the lower worlds.69

Paranormal Phenomena in Judaism Diverse paranormal phenomena, including, on the one hand, angels revealing themselves and, on the other, possession and dybbuks, are documented in a broad range of sources from the Bible to the Hasidic literature. These phenomena are usually understood as involving man’s encounter with external entities, or these entities’ entry in to (or exit from) the human body. In the following discussion I will focus on the perception of some of these phenomena as occurring within the psyche.

Clairvoyance, Angelology, Maggidism, and Ibbur Clairvoyance “Elisha said to him, ‘Where have you been, Gehazi?’ He replied, ‘Your servant has not gone anywhere.’ Then [Elisha] said to him, ‘Did not my spirit go along when a man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this a time to take money in order to buy clothing and olive groves and vineyards, sheep and oxen, and male and female slaves?’” (II Kings 5:25–27). Augustine expressly noted that the wording “Did not my spirit [literally, ‘heart’] go along” reflects Elisha’s ability to see temporally or spatially distant people or events.70 The clairvoyant, who reports seeing and sensing internally a 68 On the esoteric knowledge of physiognomy and palmistry in the Zohar, which classifies this as “most secret,” see Ron Margolin, “Physiognomy and Chiromancy: From Prediction and Diagnosis to Healing and Human Correction (Zohar 2, 70a-78a; Tiqqunei Zohar, Tiqqun 70)” [Heb], Te‘uda 21–22 (2007): 199–49. 69 On theurgy in Kabbalah, see Idel, New Perspectives, 173–99. 70 Augustine, The City of God against the Pagans 22:29. English translation based on Augustine, The City of God against the Pagans, trans. David S. Wiesen, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 417 (London: Heinemann, 1968), 535. Compare also the Balaam episode, in light of what Balaam says of his paranormal sight: “As Balaam looked up and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the spirit of God came upon him. Taking up his theme,



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physically distant event, definitely relies on the inner powers which only he possesses. The following anecdote attests to the presence of clairvoyance among the rabbis: From where is it derived, regarding the soul when it departs from the body? R. Samuel the brother of R. Phinehas bar Hama who was a poor man and died in Sepphoris. The Torah scholars were sitting before R. Phinehas, something humorous came before them, and they began to laugh. R. Phinehas said: How greatly does my brother’s soul suffer now. It breaks down cedars, it breaks down oaks, while you sit, unaware.71

Angels: from revelation to apotheosis In Angels of the Most High Reuben Margaliot charts a map, albeit incomplete, of the names of the angels mentioned in the Talmudic, midrashic, and Kabbalistic literatures.72 These literatures are replete with angels who are first named in the Bible and in the Apocrypha. Many of these angel names resemble those characteristic of Ancient Near East cultures and the Hellenistic world. Elior spoke of three different elements in the angelology of the Heikhalot literature: the mystical, the mythical, and the ritual-magical. The mystical dimension is most relevant to our discussion, but Elior demonstrates that even if the seeing of angels is conditional in the Heikhalot literature upon special inner abilities, angels themselves are not perceived as inner entities. The angels become heavenly creatures who are visible and audible to human beings. They are perceived as the denizens of the upper worlds with whom he said: Word of Balaam son of Beor, word of the man whose eye is true, word of him who hears God’s speech, who beholds visions from the Almighty, prostrate, but with eyes unveiled” (Num. 24:2–4; and similarly, 24:15–16). The wording: “Then the Lord unveiled Balaam’s eyes” (Num. 22:31) also explains Balaam’s testimony of his clairvoyance. The spirit of God gave Balaam inner vision, by means of which he saw what those with normal vision could not perceive. 71 Gen. Rabbah 6:7. 72 Reuben Margaliot, Angels of the Most High [Heb] (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1988). See also Meir Bar-Ilan, “The Names of Angels,” in These Are the Names: Studies in Jewish Onomastics, ed. Aaron Demsky, Joseph A. Reif, and Joseph Tabory, vol. 1 (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 1997), Hebrew section, 33–48; Michael Mach, Entwicklungsstadien des jüdischen Engelglaubens in vorrabbinischer Zeit (Tubingen: Mohr, 1992).

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one can converse, or as an accessible dimension of the divine world which is perceived by man in his mind’s eye after the earthly Temple had been destroyed, prophecy had ceased, and God had removed Himself from apprehension.73

Exceptional in this respect are the Kabbalistic perceptions of the angelic figure of Enoch-Metatron, that were described by Idel in his essay on Metatron and the development of myth in Judaism.74 He argues that Midrash Ne`elam on the Song of Songs75 portrays Enoch, whom the Heikhalot literature already identified with Metatron, as having received the supernal soul that Adam lost due to his sin; that is, a figure who underwent a transformation that raises man to another level of existence by the addition of a sort of shining halo. The development of ramified angelologic myths in Kabbalah after the thirteenth century was paralleled by ecstatic Kabbalah transforming Metatron from an angelic entity to the symbol of the highest mystical attainment.76

Maggidism, ibbur, and automatic speech and writing: paranormal phenomena intensified in the world of the Safed Kabbalists. Along with manifestations such as possession, which was perceived as the entry of an outer spirit into a person,77 Maggidism and ibbur [the “impregnation” of a spirit] are discussed in the Safed Kabbalah as a product of distinct inner intentionality. 73 Rachel Elior, “Mysticism, Magic, and Angelology—The Perception of Angels in Hekhalot Literature,” Jewish Studies Quarterly 1 (1993–1994): 27. 74 Moshe Idel, “Enoch Is Metatron,” Immanuel 24–25 (1990): 220–40; idem, “Metatron: Notes on the Development of the Myth in Judaism” [Heb], in Eshel Beer-Sheva, vol. 4: Myth in Judaism, ed. Havivah Pedayah (Beersheva: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press, 1996), 29–44 75 See Midrash Ne‘elam on Song of Songs, Zohar Ḥadash, ed. Reuben Margaliot (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 19940, fol. 69a-b; Idel, “Enoch Is Metatron,” 230–31. 76 Idel, “Metatron,” 43–44. Regarging angelic transformation see Wolfson, Speculum, 74–124. 77 See Gedalyah Nigal, “Dybbuk” Tales [Heb] (Jerusalem: Rubin Mass, 1994); Yoram Bilu, “The Dibbuk in Judaism: Mental Disorder as Cultural Resource” [Heb], Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 2, no. 4 (1982–1983): 529–63; Jeffrey Howard Chajes, Between Worlds: Dybbuks, Exorcists, and Early Modern Judaism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003); idem, “In a Different Voice: The Non-Kabbalistic Women’s Mysticism of Early Modern Jewish Culture” [Heb], Zion 67 (2002): 139–62; Matt Goldish (ed.), Spirit Possession in Judaism: Cases and Contexts from the Middle Ages to the Present (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003).



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1. R. Hayyim Vital writes in Sha`ar Ru’ah ha-Kodesh on the appearance of the maggid: As regards the angels who are revealed to people, and tell them the future, and secrets, and who are called maggidim: they were created from man’s engaging in Torah study and the observance of the commandments. There are some people to whom these maggidim are not revealed, while to others they are revealed, all depending on the aspect of their souls, or according to their deeds, and we should not speak of this at length. . . . This is the secret of prophecy and the spirit of divine inspiration—it undoubtedly is a voice sent from above, to speak with that prophet, or with the one possessing the spirit of divine inspiration. This supernal spiritual voice, however, cannot alone [be heard], [but rather must] assume physicality [i.e., become a seemingly human voice] in order to enter the ears of the prophet, unless it is first garbed in the material voice that issues forth from that individual, as he now engages in Torah study, prayer, and the like. Then it is engarbed within [i.e., enters] him, connects with him, and comes to the ear of that prophet and he hears it. It cannot exist without the material voice of the individual himself now. The meaning of this is that the first [i.e., divine] voice that is manifested in angels and holy spirits, as mentioned before, they themselves are the voice of prophecy. When that voice comes to the man to tell him that prophecy, it comes and is garbed in this material voice, of the person from whom it issues, when that prophecy rests upon him.78 78 Hayyim Vital, Sha‘ar Ruaḥ ha-Kodesh, in Collected Writings of R. Isaac Luria (Jerusalem, 1988), vol. 10, derush 1, 9–10. Vital explains in the fourth section of his book Sha‘arei Qedushah (first published, from MS. BM 749, only in 2005), citing techniques described in Abulafia’s writings, how to attain the spirit of divine inspiration [ruaḥ ha-kodesh] and a maggid (on the influence of Abulafia’s writings on Vital, see Idel, “Hitbodedut as Concentration in Ecstatic Kabbalah” [Heb] in Idel, Studies in Ecstatic Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Academon, 1990), 84–111: “Meditate in a secluded house as above, and wrap yourself in a talit, and sit and close your eyes and remove yourself from the material world, as if your soul had left your body, and ascended into the heavens. And after this casting off, read one mishnah, whichever one you wish, many times, time after time, and intend that your soul commune with the soul of the tanna mentioned in that mishnah. Do so by having the intent that your lips are a vessel that issues the letters of the wording of that mishnah, and that the voice that you bring forth from within the vessel of the mouth is the sparks of your inner soul that go forth and read that mishnah; and your soul becomes a chariot [Merkabah] in which is engarbed the soul of the tanna of that mishnah, and his soul will be engarbed within your soul. And when you labor from reading that mishnah, if you will be worthy of this, the soul of that tanna might rest in your mouth, and will be engarbed there while you are still reading the mishnah. Then, while you are still reading the mishnah, he will speak from

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In Vital’s conception of maggidism, the nature of the individual’s actions is all-important. Of greater importance for our discussion, however, is the notion that the voice sent from above can be revealed only through an individual’s own voice. This concept integrates inner and outer so closely that the external source of the “prophecy of the maggid” and the individual’s inner motives that actually create the maggid cannot be separated.79 According to Werblowsky, our knowledge concerning R. Joseph Caro, who became the premier halakhic authority in his time because of his rulings, his leadership ability, his many students, and his longevity and health, rules out the possibility of explaining the maggid who came to him by means of the usual medical diagnoses, which attribute such phenomena to paranoia, hysteria, or epilepsy. Caro himself most likely thought that the voice speaking through his mouth was that of prophecy. In Werblowsky’s psychoanalytical explanation, this maggid, whose appearances were documented by Caro in his book Maggid Mesharim, represents Caro’s conscience, that is, his superego.80 This psychoanalytic theory regarding the maggid phenomenon precludes its reduction to the realm of mental illness, while maintaining its inner nature. The phenomenon of the maggid is conditional upon the speaker’s unawareness of the externalization of a part of his personality,

your mouth, and he will greet you” (Vital, Sha‘arei Qedushah ha-Shalem, part 4, sha‘ar 3, 154; partially translated in Idel, “Hitbodedut as Concentration in Ecstatic Kabbalah” [English], 136). See also his description of letter combinations as the key to divestment from the material and from this world: “As if your soul has departed from your body . . . and imagine making your request from those combinations written there, and they will answer your question, or their spirit will rest in your mouth, or you will slumber and they will answer you as in a dream” (156). This directive patently confirms what was said above about Vital’s conception of the maggid and raises the possibility (that to the best of my knowledge has not yet been suggested) that this was how the Safed Kabbalists explained to themselves the identification of the characters in the Zohar with Tannaim. On the maggid phenomenon, see Werblowsky, Joseph Karo, 257–86; Scholem, “‘Divine Mentor’”; Idel, “Sefer Ha-Meshiv,” esp. 201–32. Notwithstanding the above, this fourth part of Sha‘arei Qedushah teaches that in the reality of religious life it is not always possible to separate the verbal from the nonverbal. In this part of his book Vital collected dozens of quotations from Kabbalistic works containing directives for attaining the spirit of divine inspiration, usually depicted in abstract terms. Nonetheless, according to Vital, these methods lead to contentual knowledge of the type that R. Joseph Karo describes in Maggid Mesharim. 79 See Werblowsky, Joseph Karo, 77–79. 80 Ibid., 279–86.



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while the psychoanalytical explanation clarifies the inner nature of the phenomenon, without ascribing it to mental illness.81 2. R. Moses Cordovero writes on ibbur: A soul will pass into a person, at times holy, other times wicked. We have also seen that a demon or an evil spirit is enclothed in a person and frightens him. . . . R. Simeon ben Yohai, may he rest in peace, explains that at times Elijah is enclothed in man’s intellect and tells him secret things. This will seem to a person as if he thought of these things himself, and this new thing and matter appears in his intellect. It is the same regarding matters of Torah and worldly affairs, it tells him: this shall be, and this not. It will come in a hidden manner; the person will not feel that his head is heavy, his ears will not ring, nor as something new [i.e., alien] within himself, as would happen with a maggid. Rather, as one who tells this from himself. The manner of ibbur corresponds to this aspect, whether good because of some commandment that he performed, or bad because of some transgression that he committed. . . . And if a spirit shall possess his spirit, as we explained, in the neshamah, and certainly in the nefesh [both translated as “soul,” the former being higher than the latter]. The general rule that emerges from all these inquiries is that a person’s being on a supremely high level is dependent on his actions, that cause to rest upon him the divine force that descends to the earth, and rests upon him, as was the case with Metatron, the guardian angel of the world.82

According to Werblowsky, Cordovero assumed that, along with the possibility of demons or maggidim taking control of a person’s soul, manifesting themselves through automatic speech, there is also the prospect of the ibbur of other souls or of angels in a person’s soul. Although Cordovero does not claim that these are the individual’s own creations, much, in his opinion, depends on the level of the soul that receives the divine emanation.83 This paranormal phenomenon is marked by its inner nature, just as Vital explained the maggid phenomenon as occurring within a person’s psyche and expressing itself through his own voice. 81 On R. Moses Hayyim Luzzatto’s maggid and its disappearance, see Meir Benayahu, “The ‘Maggid’ of R. Moses Hayyim Luzatto” [Heb], Sefunot 5 (1961): 297–336; idem, “The Vow of R. Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto to Abstain from Writing Works ‘Dictated by a Maggid’” [Heb], Zion 42 (1976–1977): 24–48. On automatic writing among the Kabbalists, see Goldreich, Automatic Writing. 82 Moses Cordovero, Derishot be-Inyanei ha-Mal’akhim, in Margaliot, Angels of the Most High, 64–65. See Werblowsky, Joseph Karo, 80–81. 83 Werblowsky, Joseph Karo, 80.

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Dreams and Paranormal Phenomena in Hasidism In Hasidism: Between Ecstasy and Magic, Idel surveys a series of central figures in Hasidism whom its literature portrays as having undergone what he calls ecstatic mystical experiences. Such experiences are mentioned in reference to the Baal Shem Tov, Dov Baer (the Maggid of Mezheritch), the Baal Shem Tov’s grandson R. Ephraim of Sudylkow, the Maggid of Kozinetz, R. Nahman of Bratslav, R. Isaac of Radzivilow, and others. Idel finds the Hasidic hagiographic literature from the time of the Baal Shem Tov to the later generations to be replete with descriptions of trance-like conditions, journeys to the heavens, and the like. He writes that “it seems that no movement in Judaism has ever emphasized the importance of pneumatic experience in its most intense and extreme forms, as much as in Hasidism.”84 I will use what is related of the Baal Shem Tov to distinguish between attentiveness to contentual dreams and paranormal experiences in the world of the Hasidim, that will be discussed here, and noncontentual experiences, to be examined at the end of the following chapter.

The Aliyat Neshamah of the Baal Shem Tov The three extant versions of the letter of the Baal Shem Tov’s aliyat neshamah [literally, “the ascent of the soul”] sent to his brother-in-law indicate that the Baal Shem Tov’s spiritual activity consisted primarily of yihudim85 [the effecting of mystical unions of the Sefirot] and ascents.86 The letter contains two different references to the term aliyat neshamah. The first tells that the Baal Shem Tov’s meeting with the Messiah took place in the upper worlds during his soul’s ascent. The second reference appears in the body of the statements attributed to the Messiah, who presents the Baal Shem Tov’s ability to perform aliyat neshamah as an educational goal: the Messiah will 84 Idel, Hasidism, 54. 85 In Hasidism, yiḥudim [unifications] refers to the unification of the divine in man with the Divinity. This is based on the Kabbalistic concept of the same name which, however, bears a different meaning: the unification of the Sefirot by human intentionality. 86 Shivḥei ha-Baal Shem Tov: A Facsimile of a Unique Manuscript, Variant Versions and Appendices, ed. Joshua Mondschein (Jerusalem, 1982), 229–37. For previous treatments of this letter, see Moshe Idel, Messianic Mystics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 213–20; idem, Ascensions, 143–66; Margolin, Human Temple, 236–37, 338, 424–25. On the connection between the Heikhalot literature and the Baal Shem Tov’s spiritual ascents, see Naftali Loewenthal, Communicating the Infinite: The Emergence of the Habad School (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).



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come after the Baal Shem Tov will have succeeded in teaching others to perform aliyot neshamah as he does: On Rosh ha-Shanah of the year 5507 (1746), I performed an incantation for the ascent of the soul, known to you. And in that vision I saw wondrous things, which I had never seen until then from the day that I became spiritually aware. . . . I asked the Messiah: When do you come? And he answered: You will know [the time] which is when your doctrine will be revealed in public and it will be disclosed to the world, and “your fountains will well outside,” what I have taught you and you apprehended, and also they will be able to perform the unifications and the ascents [of the soul] as you do, and then the shells will be abolished, and then there will be a time of good-will and redemption. And this [answer] surprised me, and I was deeply sorrowful because of the length of time when this will be possible; however, from what I have learned, the three things, which are remedies and three divine names, it is easy to learn and to explain. [Then] my mind was calmed and I thought that it is possible for my contemporaries to attain this degree and aspect by these [practices], as I do, namely to be able to accomplish the ascents of souls, and they will be able to study and become like me. Permission was not granted all the days of my life to reveal this.87

This passage indicates that the Baal Shem Tov’s “contemporaries” (apparently the members of his close circle), as well, had the capacity to perform aliyot neshamah, and could therefore use the charms and divine names that he possessed to aid those in need of such extraordinary means upon their return from their soul journeys to the upper realms. In my opinion, we should distinguish between the contents revealed in such a spiritual ascent and the charms mentioned in the letter. For the charms and divine names to be effective, a person must be capable of performing aliyat neshamah. This claim is based on what Idel called the “mystico-magical” model.88 The first pages of Shivhei ha-Besht contain different depictions, attributed to members of the Baal Shem Tov’s intimate circle, of his prayer. The impression we gain from all these reports is that the Baal Shem Tov’s prayer was fervent, and at times he left a regular state of consciousness, and seemed to be not of this world: 87 Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye, Ben Porat Yosef (Berditchev: Margaliot and Yadkis, n.d.), 254–55; mainly translated in Idel, Ascensions, 144–45. 88 Idel, Hasidism, 103–45.

Prophecy, Dreams, and Other Paranormal Contentual Experiences  •  CHAPTER TWO

I heard this from our teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Falk, the famous Hasid from Chechelnik, who heard it from Rabbi Abraham, the head of the court in the holy community of Dubossary, who was formerly the cantor in the bethhamidrash of the holy community of Medzhibozh. Once they had to say the Hallel, since it was either the first of the month or during the intermediate days of Passover. Rabbi Abraham was reciting Shaharith before the ark, and the Besht was praying in his usual place. It was his custom to pray before the ark beginning with the Hallel. During the voiced eighteen benedictions, the Besht trembled greatly as he always did while praying. Everyone who looked at the Besth while he was praying noticed this trembling. When Rabbi Abraham finished the repetition of the prayer, the Besht was still standing at his place and he did not go to the ark. Rabbi Wolf Kotses, the Hasid, looked at his face. He saw that it was burning like a torch. The Besht’s eyes were bulging and fixed straight ahead like those of someone dying, God forbid. Rabbi Ze’ev motioned to Rabbi Abraham and each gave his hand to the Besht and led him to the ark. He went with them and stood before the ark. He trembled for a long time and they had to postpone the reading of the Torah until he stopped trembling.89

Thus it would seem that at times, even during public prayer, the Baal Shem Tov would enter an altered state of consciousness, or as the Maggid of Mezheritch put this: “The Maggid said that he realized that the Besht was inspired by the Shekhinah, and that he was not in this world.”90 A comparison of these two different sources teaches that each describes paranormal altered-consciousness states. The first source, however, shows that the aliyat neshamah which the Baal Shem Tov reported to his brother-in-law R. Gershon of Kitov had a distinct content of sights and words. In that event the Baal Shem Tov had a vision of an ascent to the heavens, to the palace of the Messiah, including a meaningful conversation with him. The content of this conversation is reminiscent of a sort of revelation dream. The description of the Baal Shem Tov’s prayer, in contrast, while based on the testimony of an external observer, seems to indicate that this was a nonverbal and noncontentual experience of detachment from the outer world 89 Shivḥei ha-Besht, ed. Avraham Rubinstein (Jerusalem, 1992), 85–86. For English translation, see In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov. Shivhei ha-Besht: The Earliest Collection of Legends about the Founder of Hasidism, trans. Dan Ben-Amos and Jerome R. Mintz (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970), 50. 90 Ibid., 87 (trans.: In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov, 51).



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resulting from intensive inner concentration while praying. According to the citation in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, his way of praying called for concentration on the sounds of the letters uttered by the worshiper. “In the book Ḥesed le-Avraham and in the collections of R. Baruch, of blessed memory, he wrote—and this is his wording—the Baal Shem Tov, blessed be his memory, said, that is, one is to enter into the word with all his body, his heart, and his thought.”91 It seems to me that the Baal Shem Tov himself did not differentiate between the two states, each of which he perceived as aliyat neshamah. According, however, to the citation in the name of the maggid, the states of trembling that the Baal Shem Tov entered were out-of-world experiences, that is, marked by a loss of regular consciousness. The Maggid of Mezheritch himself apparently did not think that his master’s prayer attested to his soul leaving his body, rather, the Baal Shem Tov’s fervent prayer brought him to a state wherein ordinary consciousness is disabled, a state which the maggid conceived of as the Divine Presence resting upon the Baal Shem Tov.92 Accordingly, a discussion of contentual aliyat neshamah states must relate to the standing of dreams in the Hasidic world.

Dreams in the World of Hasidism The following narrative of the Baal Shem Tov’s dream is the only narrative in Shivhei ha-Besht that originates with the Baal Shem Tov himself: I heard this story from Rabbi Moses, the son-in-law of the sister of the rabbi of the holy community of Polonnoye, who heard it himself from the Besht when he told it in the following words to the villagers in the holy community of Nemirov. “Once in a dream I was walking in a field, and in the distance I saw mist. I went on until I arrived at one side of the place where the mist was. The sun cast light on this side and also on the road, but opposite me it was foggy. It was as if I were standing on a long slope. I went on until I came to the end of the valley. For several years I had a gentile servant who had left me, I saw 91 Cited in Ba‘al Shem Tov al ha-Torah, ed. Wodnik, 122. “R. Baruch” is probably the Baal Shem Tov’s grandson, R. Baruch of Medzibezh, and therefore this version seems closest to what the Baal Shem Tov actually said. See all the sources that repeat these descriptions, ibid., 119–25; see also below, 252–56. 92 On the Hasidic perception of the Divine Presence resting in man and the Hasidic sources, see Margolin, Human Temple, 128–38, 277–80, 394–95.

Prophecy, Dreams, and Other Paranormal Contentual Experiences  •  CHAPTER TWO

him there walking with a heavy load of wood on his shoulders. When he saw me he threw down the wood and fell at my feet, and he said: ‘When I served you, sir, I used to observe the Sabbath. When I left you I served an arrendator who made me work on the Sabbath. He used to order me to go to the forest on the Sabbath to bring wood. Now both of us are dead, and each Sabbath I have to bring wood to Gehenna until there is enough there for the arrendator for every day of the week. I ask you to wait for me until I return. Since you, sir, are very important in the world, I will show you, sir, the place where you can ask them to release me from my sentence. I cannot show it to you now because the attendants are just behind me.’ “The Besht said to him: ‘If I am important in this world, put down the wood and show me this place immediately.’ “He went with me and showed me a palace. I entered the palace. I pleaded for him and they released him from the sentence. When I pleaded for the gentile I pleaded for the Jew as well, and they released him also from the sentence.”93

Abraham Rubinstein notes that this dream levels harsh criticism at Jewish arrendators [leaseholders] who have non-Jews working for them on the Sabbath.94 The hagiographic and miraculous character of Shivhei ha-Besht raises numerous difficulties regarding the historical veracity of its narratives, but both this narrative and the Baal Shem Tov’s letter on aliyat neshamah relate to the actual reality. These dreams are not symbolic—they rather contain transparent content, and directly express the world of the dreamer, who is troubled by problems pertaining to the public. The Baal Shem Tov’s actions in his dream are a continuation of his worldview and his waking activity. They are not revelation dreams, but of activity facing the divine forces. His activist personality is expressed also in his dreams, in which he experiences success in influencing the world by means or by merit of his spiritual affinity to the divine world. An example of another realistic dream from nascent Hasidism is that of the wife of R. Abraham ha-Malakh [the Angel], the son of the Maggid of Mezheritch, which I analyzed in Human Temple.95

93 Shivḥei ha-Besht, ed. Rubinstein, 236–37 (trans.: In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov, 183–84). 94 Ibid., 236–37 n. 12. 95 Margolin, Human Temple, 206–10.



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A comparison of these dreams with those of the Baal Shem Tov’s great-grandson, R. Nahman of Bratslav, that are dated by the latter’s disciple and secretary R. Nathan Sternhartz, shows that the latter are more symbolic and therefore less clear. R. Nahman, however, assumed that his dreams could be interpreted, as is indicated by R. Nathan’s remark about a dream of R. Nahman on the fifth day of Tishrei, during the Ten Days of Repentance at the beginning of 5570 [=Fall 1809] in Bratslav, that “he told us that he dreamed but he did not know its meaning.”96 This exceptional statement proves the rule. The following example reflects the activity of the dreamer—R. Nahman—but also its inner difficulties due to its incomprehensibility. [5]569 [=1809]. He dreamed that there was a gathering of Jews with a single leader, who was very great in the world. A decree was promulgated to kill all the Jews. The leader devised a stratagem that he must change himself into a non-Jew, and he summoned a skilled [barber] to shave off his beard with the payyot [earlocks]. Afterwards, it was learned that this was false; no such decree had been issued. How ashamed was that leader! He certainly could not show himself before the world, and he had to uproot himself and escape. But how does one go out the door, and how does one hire a carriage, and the like? He undoubtedly was indescribably ashamed, and he undoubtedly had to dwell with a non-Jew for some time until his beard would grow back.97

We cannot know how R. Nahman himself understood this dream. Here, too, the character of the dreamer is reflected in the dream, but its content is not realistic and direct as in the dream of the Baal Shem Tov. It is clear from the narrative that R. Nahman, who saw himself as a leader of his followers and as worthy to be acknowledged as the leader of all Israel, realized that his inner thoughts did not necessarily correspond to the outer reality. This disparity caused him much unpleasantry and led him to temporarily hide from the world, which he might have understood as a hint from above of how he was to act. In this and other dreams that R. Nahman related to his followers, he applied an interpretive approach not far removed from that adopted by contemporary psychoanalysts, although he did think that the dream contents were divine messages to be interpreted.

96 Nathan of Nemirov, Ḥayei Moharan (Jerusalem, 1985), ot 101, 96. 97 Ibid., ot 86, 83.

Prophecy, Dreams, and Other Paranormal Contentual Experiences  •  CHAPTER TWO

The dreams of R. Moses Hayyim Ephraim of Sudylkow, the Baal Shem Tov’s grandson and R. Nahman’s uncle, that are brought at the end of his book Degel Mahaneh Efrayim, are different, but still display significant similarities. In his dreams R. Moses Hayyim Ephraim frequently saw his beloved grandfather. For the grandson, the Baal Shem Tov’s pronounced closeness to him in the dreams provided confirmation of his spiritual worth: Monday night, the Torah portion of [5]541 [= 1781], I saw my master, my grandfather, may his memory be for a blessing in the World to Come. I drew closer, face-to-face, we actually cleaved together. He hugged me with both hands and said to me as follows: “Your nature and my nature went forth into the world, my ba‘al shem [wonder worker] and your good name, that you will be a servant of the Lord, and study and say Torah in Israel.” One of the important guests who would come to the tzaddiqim to listen to them was standing there. My master, my grandfather, inclined his head to him and nodded his head, namely, this would surely come to pass. And I stood on the bench and saw the nodding of his head.98

This dream is reminiscent of the numerous dreams of R. Hayyim Vital of his teacher R. Isaac Luria reported in the former’s Sefer Ha-Hezyonot.99 The dream of the Baal Shem Tov’s grandson is characterized by its very strong emotional component and its striking visual force, that gives it a more realistic nature, one less fantastic than that of Vital’s dreams. The dream is where he meets his grandfather, who appears in it as if he is still alive. The end of the dream, however, reveals the grandson’s hidden desire for recognition, which attests to the dream’s psychological significance. This is not a symbolic dream but a realistic one, in which the dreamer sees himself standing on the side and watching his grandfather nodding his head, confirming his earlier statement about the good name shared by the grandson and his renowned grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov. In summation, these three examples of Hasidic dreams point to the seriousness with which dreams are taken in the Hasidic world. This, in and of itself, already emphasizes the importance of inner realities for them. The 98 Moses Hayyim Ephraim of Sudylkow, Degel Maḥaneh Efrayim, Likkutim, 284. 99 See, for example, “331. Rosh Ḥodesh [= the beginning of the month of] Iyyar. During the Minḥah [service] I read the mishnah 3 times, as is my known practice. I intended in my thought to ask: Who was my prior incarnation? I fell asleep and I saw my teacher, the Ari [= R. Isaac Luria], of blessed memory. He held my arm and said to me: Here is the man, this handsome young man who is standing with us is my brother-in-law, my sister’s husband, and you were his teacher. And I awoke” (Vital, Sefer Ha-Hezyonot, 81).



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importance of these realities for the Hasidic masters, however, does not necessarily imply that they did not think that their dreams took them to realms beyond their selves or to actual encounters with exterior spirits, as is suggested by the dreams of the Baal Shem Tov and his grandson. Still, as is suggested by R. Nahman’s highly symbolic dream, early Hasidism exhibits signs of a burgeoning psychological stance regarding dreams. Accordingly, Hasidic masters such as R. Nahman, or the Maggid of Mezheritch before him, who display a clear focus on the psyche, emphasize to an even greater degree the importance and significance of the transformative effect on one’s consciousness of either dreams or phenomena such as the Baal Shem Tov’s aliyot neshamah.

Chapter Three

Introspective Contemplation and Inward Focusing

Introspective Contemplation and Inward Focusing in World Religions Focusing consciousness by employing various concentration techniques produces an inward contemplative state and communion with deeper planes of human existence, to the extent of altering the normal perception of reality. A variety of religious writings describe the experiences accompanying these techniques in terms of making contact with God—and at times, in terms of a sense of unification with Him. Inward focusing is frequently portrayed as knowing one’s self. This knowledge could be interpreted as an awareness of the divine, which is typical of “mystic” writings, or as an enlightened awareness without God, as in Buddhist thought. This knowledge, that results from a turning inward, is frequently understood as somewhat of an answer to existential questions. In this respect, every mystic is also a seeker after answers to existential problems, even though the term “religious existentialism” is most closely associated with Kierkegaard, whose thought is based on Kantian philosophy, which assumes the impossibility of direct contact with the absolute realm of the divine. The accepted tendency to view every inward-focused and contemplative religious experience as a unio mystica limits, from the outset, the scope of the phenomena associated with inward focusing. A concept such as unio


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mystica is not relevant for Buddhism, even though the Buddhist contemplative methods are based on introspective and inward focusing and inner concentration no less than the inward-looking methods of the monotheistic religions. The multifaceted context of monotheistic inner religious life includes inward focusing that emphasizes the aspiration to draw close to God and unite with Him, while other inner directions lead to standing before God. Each assumes that both union with and standing before God are dependent on what happens in the individual’s inner world when he focuses inwards. Simone Weil defined prayer as “absolutely unmixed attention.”1 Such a definition, that speaks of the situation in which man stands before God, assumes that the worshiper is not eager to set forth his requests, which reflect his life in the outer world, but rather makes room within himself for this attentiveness. The experiences illustrated in the preceding chapter were defined as being of verbal or visual content, but most of the following experiences are depicted as sensations lacking visual or aural-verbal content. Steven Katz argues against the existence of such noncontentual experiences. This argument is meant to counter William James’s influential approach, which stresses the experiential and universal nature common to the different aspects of the religious experience, and specifically, those of the mystic experience.2 1 Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, trans. Arthur Wills (New York: Putnam’s, 1952), 170–76. 2 “This overcoming of all the usual barriers between the individual and the Absolute is the great mystic achievement. In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness. This is the everlasting and triumphant mystical tradition, hardly altered by differences of clime or creed. In Hinduism, in Neoplatonism, in Sufism, in Christian mysticism, in Whitmanism, we find the same recurring note” (James, Varieties, 419). This thought is seconded by Underhill: “whatever the place or period in which they have arisen, their aims, doctrines and methods have been substantially the same,” Mysticism, 3. The arguments concerning the constant dependence of mysticism on a certain type of universal human experience remained current throughout the twentieth century, and gained more force in recent decades. In the middle of the 1970s, Frits Staal attacked Underhill in his book Exploring Mysticism, claiming that she limited James’s general definitions. To a certain extent, Staal’s book is a scholarly continuation of Aldous Huxley’s literary work (Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell [New York: Harper and Row, 1956]). On the conceptual continuity between James and Huxley, see Robert Charles Zaehner, Zen, Drugs and Mysticism (New York: Pantheon, 1972). Staal maintains that mysticism is a consciousness-expanding experience independent of religious belief, and especially theistic belief. Rather, it is interpreted by believers in the context of their specific culture

Introspective Contemplation and Inward Focusing  •  CHAPTER THREE

According to Katz, “There are no pure (i.e. unmediated) experiences.  .  .  . That is to say, all experience is processed through, organized by, and makes itself available to us in extremely complex epistemological ways.”3 Thus, not only are the various mysticisms completely dependent on their disparate sociological and cultural backgrounds, their typical experiences are the product of epistemological processes contingent on that same sociological and cultural background, thereby precluding non-contentual experiences. The distinction drawn between verbal and visual experiences (discussed in the preceding chapter), on the one hand, and, on the other, non-contentual experiences (which we will discuss below) undermines Katz’s unequivocal determination and demonstrates that the religious literature itself distinguishes between the two experiential categories. A specific comparison between these two types within the same spiritual environment (as in our comparison within the Hasidic context) gives added force to my argument.4 Abstract ideas and mythic conceptions existed alongside one another in the complex world of the Baal Shem Tov, although the demythification orientation that was present to some extent among many of his disciples explains the disparity between how the Hasidic writings portray his experiences and those of his followers. These dissimilarities continued to exist among different Hasidic masters across the generations. The non-contentual and non-mythic characterization of the experiences described below are related to the weakening of the mythical component following the rise of rational elements in the thought of those undergoing them.5 Individuals engaged in contemplative states whose reli(Staal, Exploring Mysticism: A Methodological Essay [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975], 156–58, 195–96). 3 Steven T. Katz, Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 25–26. For a direct response to Katz’s arguments, see Robert K. C. Forman, The Problem of Pure Consciousness: Mysticism and Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 9–10. Forman devotes his entire book to countering Katz’s arguments. These two contradictory orientations in the study of mysticism are also discussed in three additional books edited by Katz: Mysticism and Religious Traditions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983); Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992); and Mysticism and Sacred Scripture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). 4 Compare the descriptions of the nonverbal Hasidic prayer experiences at the end of the current chapter (in the discussion of prayer and inward contemplation in Hasidism) with the portrayals of the Baal Shem Tov’s spiritual ascents (above, 203–6.) 5 On the characteristic features of mythic thought from this point of view, see Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, vol. 2: Mythical Thought, trans. Ralph Manheim (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955).



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gious-mythical thought waned and collapsed due to rational thought or other cultural influences tend to portray their experiences as non-contentual and in general and universal terms, more so than those whose consciousness was fashioned by mythic religious thought. Not surprisingly, in the controversy aroused by Katz many of the universalists were scholars who had engaged in contemplative spiritual exercises.

Buddhist and Zen Buddhist Meditation Two different meditative directions appear in Buddhism: one is described by the Sanskrit term śamatha [samadhi], and the other, vipaŚyanā [in Pali: vipassana]. Śamatha meditation [with the literal meaning of “silence”], concentrates thought on a single object, in order to silence the stream of thoughts and inner sensations and to attain serenity of both mind and body. The second meditative path is that of insight: meditation meant to increase awareness of and sensitivity to the world perceived by the meditator.6 Both meditative systems, of concentration and insight, exist in Theravada Buddhism.7 As Griffiths showed, both these types of meditative practice are present in the Theravada canon, with a distinct awareness of the essential difference between them, as regards both their psychological influences and their differing goals. Griffiths argues that attempts by Theravada Buddhist teachers to resolve the tension between these two directions are fruitless. This lack of success can be explained by the differing psychological states induced by the two kinds of meditation. The insightful way leads to a redemptive state of mind based on discursive thought that adopts the Buddhist metaphysical categories, which focus on individual redemption. The path of concentration silences the consciousness and thereby overcomes all pain.8 The path suggested by Japanese Zen Buddhism, which stems from Mahayana Buddhism and Chinese Taoism, is different. Herrigel portrays the essence of teaching Zen by different skills: . . . all right doing is accomplished only in a state of true selflessness, in which the doer cannot be present any longer as “himself.” Only the spirit is present, 6 Young, “Buddhist Meditation.” See above 169 n. 28 7 The only Hinayana school that survived as a living religion, practiced in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. 8 Paul Griffith, “Concentration or Insight: The Problematic of Therevada Buddhist Meditation-Theory,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 49, no. 4 (1981): 605– 24; see esp. the summation, 618.

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a kind of awareness which shows no trace of egohood and for that reason ranges without limit through all distances and depths, with “eyes that hear and with ears that see.” . . . The pupil understands him [= the teacher] even when he keeps silent. The important thing is that an inward movement is thereby initiated. The teacher pursues it, and, without influencing its course with further instructions which would merely disturb it, helps the pupil in the most secret and intimate way he knows: by direct transference of the spirit, as it is called in Buddhist circles. “Just as one uses a burning candle to light others with,” so the teacher transfers the spirit of the right art from heart to heart, that it may be illumined. If such should be granted to the pupil, he remembers that more important than all outward works, however attractive, is the inward work which he has to accomplish if he is to fulfill his vocation as an artist. . . . The art of the inner work, which unlike the outer does not forsake the artist, which he does not “do” and can only “be,” springs from depths of which the day knows nothing.9

In contrast with Theravada Buddhism, the Soto school of Zen Buddhism, which was founded in the thirteenth century by the Buddhist monk Dogen, clearly choses between the two directions described above. Young explains that this Zen school does not regard meditation as a means to an end, nor does it distinguish between means and end. He writes: Soto Zen advocates something called “just sitting.” If meditation is a journey, it is a journey to where one is. The distance separating starting point and goal is zero. The mystic’s freedom is none other than noticing that the bonds do not exist to begin with. In ultimate terms, to create in people’s minds a solidified concept of enlightenment as a future goal is already to mislead them in some way. . . . Soto Zen is the ultimately simple form of vipaŚyanā practice in which one is simply totally aware from moment to moment of the fact of the body sitting.10

9 Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery, trans. R. F. C. Hull (New York: Pantheon, 1959), 67–69. This book, by a lecturer of philosophy in Heidelberg, who spent six years with his wife in the 1930s learning the art of archery and Japanese flower arrangement, made a considerable contribution to the dissemination of Zen teachings in the West. 10 Young, “Buddhist Meditation,” 233–34. Shunryu Suzuki was the leading Soto teacher in the United States in the 1960s until his death in 1971. On the way in which he taught Soto Zen in America, see Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, ed. Trudy Dixon (New York: Weatherhill, 1991).



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As I mentioned in the preceding chapter, Otto defined the mysticism of knowledge as a synthesis between these two paths: what he called the “Mystik der Selbstversenkung” [introspective mysticism] and the “mysticism of unifying vision” that is based on an intuitive look at the multiplicity of the outer world.11 The inclusion of Buddhist meditative trends in our discussion seemingly confirms Otto’s distinction between the two aspects of mystical knowledge. These descriptions, which highlight the differences between the two worldviews, teach that basing these disparities in the differences between introverted and extroverted personality types (introspective mysticism and the mysticism of the unifying vision, respectively) trivializes the distinction, even if differences between the personalities of the founders of the different methods had some impact on their teachings. I find it more fruitful to speak of two types of introspection distinguished by the different purposes they serve, similar to the distinctions between the Buddhist meditative schools.

The Roots of Introspective Contemplation in Western Culture and Rudolf Otto’s Theory Plato plainly calls for inward contemplation: “And does not the purification consist in this which has been mentioned long ago in our discourse, in separating, so far as possible, the soul from the body and teaching the soul the habit of collecting and bringing itself together from all parts of the body, and living, so far as it can, both now and hereafter, alone by itself, freed from the body as from fetters?”12 Then if an eye is to see itself, it must look at an eye, and at that region of the eye in which the virtue of an eye is found to occur; and this, I presume, is sight. . . . And if the soul too, my dear Alcibiades, is to know herself, she must surely look at a soul, and especially at that region of it in which occurs the virtue of a soul—wisdom, and at any other part of a soul which resembles this?13

11 Otto, East and West, 38–43. 12 The words of Socrates in Plato, Phaedo, 67. For English translation, see Plato, Euthyphro, Apology, Phaedo, Phaedrus, trans. Harold North Fowler, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 36 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), 232–33. 13 Plato, Alcibiades, trans. W. R. M. Lamb, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 201 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), 210–11.

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Plato explicitly speaks of the inward focusing of the soul, with an increasing distancing from the body, as the soul seeks to be freed of its bonds. In the Enneads of Plotinus, Plato’s thoughts regarding the soul’s contemplation of itself become a description of what the classical and scholarly literatures perceive as a mystic experience: Often I have woken up out of the body to my self and have entered into myself, going out from all other things; I have seen a beauty wonderfully great and felt assurance that then most of all I belonged to the better part; I have actually lived the best life and come to identify with the divine; and set firm in it I have come to that supreme actuality, setting myself above all else in the realm of Intellect. Then after that rest in the divine, when I have come down from Intellect to discursive reasoning, I am puzzled how I ever came down, and how my soul has come to be in the body when it is what it has shown itself to be by itself, even when it is in the body.14

Brehier took note of the inner nature of Plotinus’ mystical experience: “In general, directing one’s self toward the higher principle is not coming out of one’s self but turning inward upon one’s self.”15 As Armstrong showed, Plotinus himself, who, too, was aware of the inward focus of this experience, did not assume the complete identity of the inner “I” and the One.16 . . . so that Intellect is at a loss to know whence it [= the light] has appeared, whether it has come from outside or within, and after it has gone away will say “It was within, and yet it was not within.” But one should not enquire whence it comes, for there is no “whence”: for it does not really come or go away anywhere, but appears or does not appear. So one must not chase after

14 Plotinus, Ennead IV.8: “On the Descent of the Soul into Bodies,” 1. For English translation, see Plotinus with an English Translation, trans. A. H. Armstrong, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 443 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), 396–97. 15 Emile Brehier, The Philosophy of Plotinus, trans. Joseph Thomas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 163. Martin Buber wrote in a similar spirit. See his Ecstatic Confessions, ed. Paul Mendes-Flohr, trans. Esther Cameron (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1996), 3–5. 16 Arthur Hilary Armstrong, “Plotinus,” in The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy, ed. Armstrong (London: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 261–63.



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it, but wait quietly till it appears, preparing oneself to contemplate it, as the eye awaits the rising of the sun.17

Additionally, we see in these passages that Plotinus grappled with the question of the relationship between the inner and the cosmic divine, as was noted by Armstrong,18 thus raising the problematic of means and ends. Are human preparations a means to the occurrence of activity that is not dependent solely on man, or perhaps the means is completely identical with the full realization of the experience? Plotinus evidently stressed the unified nature of full inward focusing and also realized that this abstract experience is free of any form, including rational ones. The essence of this nature obligates the seeker of unification to detach himself from the outer reality: But if this is so, the soul must let go of all outward things and turn altogether to what is within, and not be inclined to any outward thing, but ignoring all things (as it did formerly in sense-perception, but then in the realm of Forms), and even ignoring itself, come to be in contemplation of that One, and having been in its company and had, so to put it, sufficient converse with it, come and announce, if it could, to another that transcendent union.19

Like Plato, Plotinus stresses the connection between meditation and retreat from outwardness, but he focuses, not on physicality, but on thought, in images of the outer world. Unio mystica is presented quite distinctly in the following passage from the sixth Ennead: And we shall no longer be surprised if that which produces these strangely powerful longings is altogether free from even intelligible shape; since the soul also, when it gets an intense love of it, puts away all the shape which it has, even whatever shape of the intelligible there may be in it. For it is not possible for one who has anything else and is actively occupied about it to see or to be fitted in. But one must not have evil, or any other good either, 17 Plotinus, Ennead V.5: “That the Intelligibles Are Not Outside the Intellect, and on the Good,” 7–8. For English translation, see Plotinus with an English Translation, trans. A. H. Armstrong, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 444 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), 178–79. 18 Armstrong, “The Apprehension of the Divinity in the Self and Cosmos in Plotinus,” in The Significance of Neoplatonism, ed. R. Baine Harris (Norfolk: International Society for Neoplatonic Studies, 1976), 187–98. 19 Plotinus, Ennead VI.9: “On the Good or the One,” 7. For English translation, see Plotinus with an English Translation, trans. A. H. Armstrong, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 468 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), 328–29.

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ready to hand, that the soul alone may receive it alone. But when the soul has good fortune with it, and it comes to it, or rather, being there already, appears, when that soul turns away from the things that are there . . . and it [= the soul] sees it in itself suddenly appearing (for there is nothing between, nor are there still two but both are one; nor could you still make a distinction while it is present; lovers and their beloveds here below imitate this in their will to be united).20

For Plotinus, the inward focusing that leads to unification is conditional on freeing one’s thought of all the positive and negative images that usually fill a person’s mind. At the height of this inward focusing, in which the mind detaches itself from all imagery, space is vacated within it for the presence of the One. The soul gazes upon a presence that is not of the intellect, and its voiding makes possible its unification with this presence. At the end of the sixth Ennead, Plotinus speaks of this state of unity: Since, then, there were not two, but the seer himself was one with the seen (for it was not really seen, but united to him), if he remembers who he became when he was united with that, he will have an image of that in himself. He was one himself, with no distinction in himself either in relation to himself or to other things—for there was no movement in himself either in relation to himself or to other things—for there was no movement in him and he had no emotion, no desire for anything else when he had made the ascent—but there was not even any reason or thought, and he himself was not there, if we must even say this; but he was as if carried away or possessed by a god, in a quiet solitude and a state of calm, not turning away anywhere in his being and not busy about himself, altogether at rest and having become a kind of rest. . . . But that other, perhaps, was not a contemplation but another kind of seeing, a being out of oneself [an ekstasis] and simplifying and giving oneself over and pressing towards contact and rest and a sustained thought leading to adaptation, if one is going to contemplate what is in the sanctuary.21

Plotinus uses the imagery of lovers as merely analogous to unification. It is only apparent unification, since it is actually a change that occurs in the individual’s inner consciousness, and the seer and the seen are one and the same. He portrays this inner state as being drawn upwards, something 20 Plotinus, Ennead VI:7: “How the Multitude of the Forms Came into Being, and on the Good,” 34 (trans.: Plotinus, 468:190–93). 21 Plotinus, Ennead VI:9: “On the Good or the One,” 11 (trans.: Plotinus, 468:340–43).



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distinctly reminiscent of the Hebrew aliyat ha-neshamah [spiritual ascent; literally, “ascent of the soul”]. Plotinus specifies that he is not speaking of visions, but of ecstasy, that is, the individual’s leaving himself, which he also calls “simplifying,” “giving oneself over,” “rest,” or “adaptation” (all these terms will be discussed below, in relation to the Jewish sources). The ecstatic states described in the sixth Ennead result from inward focusing. This is a patently inner process, and all the passages in his writings that describe these experiences in seemingly external terms, such as vision and sight, ascent, or unification, are not to be understood literally, but as inner metaphors that allude to the experience, but do not attest to interaction with an outer entity. This draws into even sharper focus the question of the connection between the inner contemplative experience depicted by Plotinus in his writings and the theoretical framework in which he anchors such experiences. The basic assumption made by Rudolf Otto in Mysticism East and West is the immanence of the mystic’s God, unlike the transcendent personal God of the religious believer.22 For Otto, mysticism, when most intense, is consciously capable of incorporating the outer sight of the intellect (that of the unifying vision) with inner sight (introspective mysticism).23 Otto emphasized that introspective (inner) and unifying-vision (outer) mysticisms existed side by side for the great mystics, that is, Plotinus, Meister Eckhart, and Shankara. He nonetheless sharply distinguished between the 22 Otto, East and West, 140. 23 Ibid., 254–62. Otto’s understanding resembles the view of psychologists who study the brain and the differing functioning of its left and right lobes. Psychology maintains that the human brain possesses two different means of perceiving the reality, one intuitive and the other analytic. (Otto, however, argues that intuitiveness is characteristic of both the internalizing and the externalizing aspect.) The studies, beginning in the 1970s, of Robert Orenstein, who asserts the existence of two distinct sides in the human brain, the experiential, internalizing side (the intuitive), and the rational, externalizing side (the analytical), that are bridged by a ramified system of linkages, which explains how the thought processes of mystics take place, are noteworthy in this context (Robert E. Orenstein, The Psychology of Consciousness [San Francisco: Freeman, 1972], 135–40). Just as Otto’s book presents Shankara and Meister Eckhart as examples of praiseworthy individuals whose personality incorporates both aspects, the internalizing (introspective mysticism) and the externalizing (mysticism of the unifying vision), so too, researchers of the two sides of the brain see the connection and incorporation of both sides as the ideal model. Individuals with a one-sided personality definitely express one of these two aspects, reflected in their spiritual world and preferred features of mysticism. (Cf. Jung’s integrative conception, especially in relation to anima and animus: Jung, Psychology of the Unconscious, 88–111.

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two: “It [the unifying vision] knows nothing of ‘inwardness.’”24 This assertion, that Stace developed into a consolidated theory of introverted and extroverted mysticisms,25 does not accord with the works by important scholars of neo-Platonism in the second half of the twentieth century.26 Wallis showed that Plotinus’ writings about the “NOUS,” the “intelligible world,” were based on an intuitive psychological experience, no less than what he said about personal introspection.27 Wallis grounds his argument with examples from Western culture and from Hindu and Buddhist mysticism. Any mystical teaching that, following Otto, can be classified as an extroverted mysticism of knowledge, contains inner testimony to the existence of personal experiences upon which its metaphysical-mystical formulation is founded.28 Otto’s attempt to erect a substantive barrier between inner mystical experience and outer mystical knowledge encounters formidable difficulties. It would be preferable to say, for instance, that Shankara and Meister Eckhart reflect a synthesis of different meditative aims and techniques, which might trace their origins to different personality traits. This notion is closer to Wallis’s conclusions regarding the connection between mystical experience and theory.

Plotinus and Philo The classical scholar E. R. Dodds maintained that Plotinus’ conception of unio mystica had two sources: Numenius of Apamea in Syria, and Philo 24 Otto, East and West, 42. 25 Above, in the introduction, 17 n. 34. 26 For example, Emile Brehier, “Mysticisme et doctrine chez Plotin,” Sophia 16 (1948): 122–85; idem, Philosophy of Plotinus, 146–63; Armstrong, “Plotinus,” 258–63; Richard T. Wallis, Neoplatonism (London: Duckworth, 1972), 1–15. See also Wallis, “NOUS as Experience,” in The Significance of Neoplatonism, ed. R. Baine Harris (Norfolk: International Society for Neoplatonic Studies, 1976), 143 n. 1. For another singular approach to the nature of Plotinus’s rational mysticism, see Philip Merlan, Monopsychism, Mysticism, Metaconsciousness: Problems of the Soul in the Neoaristotelian and Neoplatonic Traditions (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1963), 20–22. 27 Wallis, “NOUS,” 121–25. Wallis exemplifies his argument especially with the Sixth Ennead, 7:12, 15. Against the prominence given to mysticism in the philosophy of Plotinus, see Joseph Katz, Plotinus’ Search for the Good (New York: King’s Crown Press, 1950); Lloyd P. Gerson, Plotinus (London: Routledge, 1994), 203–24. Against Wallis’s argument on the primacy of the experience, see Gerson, Plotinus, 221 n. 42. 28 Wallis, “NOUS,” 126–43. The examples are taken from, inter alia, Homer, Philo, Plato’s Seventh Letter, Schopenhauer, and the letters of the Buddhist Lama Anagorika Govinda.



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of Alexandria;29 but Dodds also was aware of the significant difference between Plotinus’ theory of the ecstatic experience and that espoused by Philo.30 He stated that Philo’s depictions, which are closer to the experience described by Plotinus, speak of a supernatural spirit that descends into a person’s body and not of a person who ascends, by his own powers, above his body. A different impression, however, is gained from Philo’s portrayal in De Vita Contemplativa of the “drunkenness in which there is no shame” of the members of the sect at the end of their sacred banquet: Then they sing hymns to God composed of many measures and set to many melodies, sometimes chanting together, sometimes taking up the harmony antiphonally, hands and feet keeping time in accompaniment, and rapt with enthusiasm reproduce sometimes the lyrics of the procession, sometimes of the halt and of the wheeling and counter-wheeling of a choric dance. Then when each choir has separately done its own part in the feast, having drunk as in the Bacchic rites of the strong wine of God’s love they mix and both together become a single choir, a copy of the choir set up of old beside the Red Sea in honour of the wonders there wrought. . . . Note in response to note and voice to voice, the treble of the women blending with the bass of the men, create an harmonious consent, music in the truest sense. Lovely are the thoughts, lovely the words and worthy of reverence the choristers, and the end and aim of thoughts, words and choristers alike in piety. Thus they continue till dawn, drunk with this drunkenness in which there is no shame, then not with heavy heads or drowsy eyes but more awake and wakeful than when they came to the banquet, they stand with their faces and whole body turned to the east and when they see the sun rising they stretch their hands up to heaven and pray for bright days and knowledge of the truth and the power of keen sighted thinking.31 29 Eric Robertson Dodds, “Numenius and Ammonius,” in Dodds, Entretiens sur l’Antiquité classique, vol. 5: Les sources de Plotin (Vandoeuvres: Fondation Hardt, 1960), 17–18; idem, Pagans and Christians in an Age of Anxiety: Some Aspects of Religious Experience from Marcus Aurelius to Constantine (New York: Norton, 1970), 93–96. On the affinity between Philo and Plotinus, see also Idel, New Perspectives, 39 and nn. 13–17. 30 Dodds, Pagans and Christians, 71–72. See also David Winston, “Philo and the Contemplative Life,” in Jewish Spirituality, vol. 1: From the Bible through the Middle Ages, ed. Arthur Green (New York: Crossroad, 1996), 223–26. 31 Philo, De Vita Contemplativa 84–85 and 88–89. For English translation, see Philo, De Vita Contemplativa (On the Contemplative Life, or Suppliants) trans. Francis Henry Colson, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 363 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1941), 164–65 and 166–69.

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Philo terms the ecstatic state of the sect members as “this drunkenness in which there is no shame,” and in other places, “the intoxication not of wine,” “sober intoxication,” or “the drunkenness which is soberness itself.”32 This spiritual intoxication is characterized by inner joy, mental clarity, and alertness, but not by an external spiritual entity penetrating the bodies of the celebrants. The state depicted by Philo results from a collective experience engendered by religious singing and dancing, but I do not find any reason to imagine that the term “drunkenness” points to the entrance of an external spirit into these individuals. This is a mental state that is the direct consequence of the singing and the special atmosphere that reigned the entire night. A comparison of the Plotinian inward-focused experience and that of the Therapeutae banquet is essential for understanding the similarities and contrasts between the various experiences that scholarly research lumps together as “ecstatic experience.” The former is the product of an inward focusing, while the latter is a collective experience brought about by singing and dancing rites that, according to Philo, originated in the Israelites’ Song at the Sea in Exodus 15. Although this does not present an inward-focused action as in the Enneads, Philo, too, paints a picture of the participants’ mental state that is achieved by religious ceremoniousness, on the background of the contents of the psalms.33 The descriptions by 32 Philo, De Vita Mosis I:187. For English translation, see Philo, De Vita Mosis (Moses), trans. Francis Henry Colson, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 289 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1935), 372–73. Idem, De Opificio Mundi 71. For English translation, see idem, De Opificio Mundi (On the Account of the World’s Creation Given by Moses), trans. Francis Henry Colson and G. H. Whitaker, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 226 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1929), 56–57. Idem, Legum Allegoria I:84. For English translation, see idem, Legum Allegoria (Allegorical Interpretation of Genesis II., III.), trans. Francis Henry Colson and G. H. Whitaker, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 226 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1929), 202–203. Idem, De Fuga et Inventione 166. For English translation see idem, De Fuga et Inventione (On Flight and Finding), trans. Francis Henry Colson and G. H. Whitaker, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 275 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1949), 100–101. Idem, Quod Omnis Probus Liber Sit 13. For English translation, see idem, Quod Omnis Probus Liber Sit (Every Good Man Is Free), trans. Francis Henry Colson, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 363 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1941), 16–19. 33 See the proposal by Pedaya, Vision and Speech, 31. Her use of the Hebrew word hitpa’amut instead of the usual Hebraization of “ecstasy” to describe the experience of seeing God does not take into account the difference between religious activity meant to attain inner spiritual awareness and that which uses trances and autosuggestion to attain divine visions. Consequently, the meaning she gives to this term is not helpful in distinguishing between these two very distinct spiritual states.



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Philo and by Plotinus differ from one another: Philo’s enables the reader to sense that the inner nature of the sect members’ religious experience is not necessarily connected to leaving their bodies, while Plotinus describes an experiential process that leads, inter alia, to an inner sensation of the soul’s departure from physicality. There are rites that employ song and dance that put some of their participants into an out-of-body trance. Philo’s description does not hint at such an experience, but this is obviously a possibility. One difference between such a trance and the Plotinian experience relates to the individual’s consciousness of what is happening. Plotinus speaks of inner focusing, of a process that occurs within one’s consciousness, without involving the loss of one’s self-awareness, while a trance is defined as a disassociative state characterized by automatic (that is, involuntary) movements or mental activity.34 It seems that Philo’s presentation of “drunkenness in which there is no shame” refers to conscious excitement accompanied by strong emotions caused by the rites, and not trancelike states. Notwithstanding this, Plotinian inner focusing or drunkenness in which there is “no shame” à la Philo could also bring some individuals to trance states with partial or full loss of control of their bodies and/ or thoughts.35 A distinction, however, must be drawn between a trance intended to extinguish consciousness in order to produce a hypnotic state, as in the descriptions in the preceding chapter, and a trance that arises incidentally during the course of religious activity meant to effect inner change of the consciousness, with maximal wakefulness. The Plotinian experience and that of Philo both take place with a paramount consciousness and spiritual alertness that is connected with freeing consciousness from everyday life, forgetting the body, and focusing on the sublimity of the divine. The differences between them are, primarily, due to cultural and social disparities at the core of the differing aims of the religious activity and, in some small degree, also the product of personality differences. 34 Lewis, Ecstatic Religion, 33–34. 35 I witnessed such a state during a Sufi dhikr ceremony in which I participated in Sakhnin, in Galilee, in the winter of 2008. At the conclusion of the singing and dancing, one of the participants entered a trance, in which he remained for five to ten minutes. He began to breathe abnormally, and he walked around the room without being in control of his movements, until he sat and calmed down. After he had left the room, the head of the group, sheikh Abu Falastin, said that the poor man was in an unpleasant and unnecessary condition.

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Are Dualistic Conceptions Related to Inward Focusing? Platonic introspective contemplation famously entails, and is dependent on, liberation from the bonds of the body. Plotinus attempted to overcome Platonic dualism with Aristotelian doctrine, but his writings demonstrate his inability to completely prevail over the rejection of the physical outer world to enable inward meditation.36 The transferal of Platonic and Gnostic dualism to monastic Christianity37 added force to Western culture’s assumption of a direct connection between any inner focusing and bodysoul dualism. In this context we must ask: to what degree does any meditative introspective contemplation entail the invalidation or rejection of the outer, material world? Despite the clear body-soul distinction in Indian culture, Buddhism reflects a different relationship between the physical and the spiritual. For the Buddhist, the material and the spiritual are two facets of the same phenomenal reality, and both are dependent on contact, that is, experiential processes. Without the sensory organs, consciousness cannot come into being, and without consciousness, the body cannot exist. In the common Buddhist metaphor “like two sheaves of reeds stacked together” they depend on each other for support.38 According to Buddhist concepts, at this first breakthrough one realizes “noself.” But this expression (anatman), which Buddhists are so fond of, can be very misleading. At first blush, the idea seems uninviting if not absurd. It sounds like a negation of individuality, a frightening loss of controlling center, or a kind of deluded regression. But what is meant by no-self is becoming free from the concept of self (satkayadrsti). And this is not quite the same thing as losing self, nor does it necessarily imply the absence of a concept of self.39 36 Brehier, Philosophy of Plotinus, 164–81; Arthur Hilary Armstrong, The Architecture of the Intelligible Universe in the Philosophy of Plotinus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1940), 83–97; Eyjolfur Kjalar Emilsson, Plotinus on Sense-Perception: A Philosophical Study (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 101–106, 145–48. 37 See Arthur Hilary Armstrong, “Dualism: Platonic, Gnostic, and Christian,” in Neoplatonism and Gnosticism, ed. Richard T. Wallis (Albany: SUNY Press, 1992), 33–54. 38 Lydia Aran, Lydia. Buddhism: Introduction to the Religion and Philosophy of Buddhism [Heb] (Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1993), 38. 39 Young, “Buddhist Meditation,” 230–31.



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In his discussion of the connection between yoga and alchemy, Eliade mentioned the notion common to both regarding transformability between the physical and the spiritual, that is based on the doctrines of proximity and continuity between the material and the spiritual, instead of dualism and dichotomies: The “elixer” obtained by alchemy corresponds to the “immortality” pursued by tantric yoga; just as the disciple works directly on his body and his psychomental life in order to transmute the flesh into a “divine body” and free the Spirit, so the alchemist works on matter to change it into “gold”— that is, to hasten its process of maturation, to “finish” it. Hence there is an occult correspondence between “matter” and man’s physico-psychic body— which will not surprise us if we remember the homology man-cosmos, so important in tantrism.40

Thus, despite the Western tendency to identify every sort of inner-focused mysticism with quietism and the negation of outer reality, introspective mysticism need not necessarily intend to nullify earthly materiality. In certain instances, it can effect transition and change within the material, which it transforms into a spiritual entity. Hollenback writes that the similarity between inner-focused mystical experiences and paranormal phenomena reveals that the former are not dependent on dualistic conceptions, but on recollection, which sets the background for conscious out-of-body experiences. The empowerment of thought, will, and imagination by means of concentration demonstrated in parapsychological phenomena stands in contrast to what dualistic approaches suggest. The latter tend to make ecstasy dependent on the separation of the body and the soul, which was most pronounced in the quietist approaches characteristic of medieval Christianity. Paranormal phenomena indicate that this is a conscious departure from the body by power of concentration. This essentially dynamic departure can be realized again by the power of thought in physical reality, even when the latter is physically distant from the body of the one undergoing the experience, as in instances of telekinesis.41

40 Eliade, Yoga, 283. On the relationship between the spiritual and nature in the philosophy of yoga, see ibid., 26–30. 41 Hollenback, Mysticism, 150–79.

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Inward Focusing in Christianity and Islam Plotinian inward focusing profoundly influenced Christian and in Islamic practices. Augustine was the first to document this. In Book VII of his Confessions he reviews what he read in the Platonic writings, and what he did not find there, but only in the New Testament:42 And being hence admonished to return to myself, I entered even into mine own inwards, thou being my Leader: and able I was to do it, for thou wert now become my Helper. Into myself I went, and with the eyes of my soul (such as it was) I discovered over the same eye of my soul, over my mind, the unchangeable light of the Lord: not this vulgar light, which all flesh may look upon, nor yet another greater of the same kind; as if this should shine much and much more clearly, and with its greatness take up all the room. This light was none of that, but another, yea clean another from all these. Nor was it in that manner above my mind, as oil is upon water, nor yet as the heaven is above the earth: but superior to my soul, because it made me; and I was inferior to it, because I was made by it. He that knows what truth is, knows what that light is; and he that knows it, knows eternity. Charity knows it. . . . And I cast mine eyes upon those other creatures beneath thee, and I perceived, that they neither have any absolute being, nor yet could they be said to have no being. A being they have, because they are from thee: and yet no being, because what thou art, they are not. For that truly hath a being, which remains unchangeably. It is good then for me to hold fast unto God: for if I remain not in him, I shall never be able to do it in myself: whereas he remaining in himself, reneweth all things. And thou art my Lord, since thou dost not stand in need of my goods.

Augustine identifies God, the Creator of the world and his personal Creator—the true and eternal being, with what was revealed to him during his “Plotinian” inner focusing. Augustine’s confession suggests a mystical experience,43 which, according to his testimony, also offers a definitive existential answer: “for if I do not abide in him, I can do nothing.”44 42 Augustine, Confessions, VII, x (16)–xi (17). For English translation see Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 123–24. 43 Hollenback, Mysticism, 38–39. 44 Philip Cary, Augustine’s Invention of the Inner Self: The Legacy of a Christian Platonist (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 31–44. See the discussion of existentialism and the mystical experience, below, chapter five, 358.



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Christian monasticism developed spiritual techniques meant to enhance the worshiper’s meditative nature by Lectio Divina. In such study, which was compared to ruminating and was performed by the repetition and recitation of texts, the discursive study of Scripture was replaced by meditative contemplation. The content lost its meaning, in favor of the experience of inward absorption that lacks verbal or visual content and that creates the background for meditative prayer.45 Leclerq calls such study “active reading,” which he depicts as prayerful reading, following the counsel of the Cistercian Arnoul of Boheriss, which he quotes: “When he [= the worshiper] reads, let him seek for savor, not science. The Holy Scripture is the well of Jacob from which the waters are drawn which will be poured out later in prayer. Thus there will be no need to go to the oratory to begin to pray; but in reading itself, means will be found for prayer and contemplation.46

Johannes Tauler, the German mystic who developed the notion of the “depths of the soul,” described the great mystical experience as moments of profound absorption in the divine spark: No created light can penetrate these depths, in which God alone dwells. All Creation cannot fill this abyss or plumb its depths. No man can do this, only God alone in His limitlessness. Only the godly depths can communicate with the depths of the soul. “Deep calls to deep” [Ps. 42:7]. . . . Notwithstanding all the rational thoughts that a person can have regarding the Trinity—and there are people who engage in such thoughts—no one is capable of penetrating this solitude. No, certainly not. It is so inner, so deep within us, beyond time and place. It is absolutely simple, without any special prominence, and whoever succeeds in entering it will feel as if they dwelled there forever, unified with God. Although these moments are fleeting, they are experienced as if they were eternal.47

Continuing in the same spirit as Tauler, Underhill examined various aspects of Christian inner focusing in the two “Introversion” chapters in her book.48 45 Jean Leclerq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture (New York: Fordham University Press, 1961), 71–76. 46 Speculum monachorum I (PL 184.1175) (cited in Leclerq, Love of Learning, 73). 47 Tauler, Predigten, 336. 48 Underhill, Mysticism, 298–357.

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As regards the Muslim world, Altmann wrote that the ecstatic experiential portrayal of the ascent of the soul that appears in the fourth Ennead (8:1) is especially prominent in the writings of al-Farabi, and was known to various Jewish thinkers,49 through the formulation in the pseudo-Aristotlean book Theology of Aristotle.50 In the Sufi world, the story of Muhammad’s spiritual ascent, at the beginning of Sura 17 in the Quran, is understood as representing an inner experience.51 In Sufism, especially in the writings of Abu al-Mugit Husayn Mansur al-Hallaj (executed in Baghdad in 922), particularly in chapters 4 and 5 of his book Kitab al-Tawasin,52 and in the dicta of the Persian Sufi teacher Abu Yazid al-Bastami (who died in the middle

49 Alexander Altmann, and Samuel Miklos Stern, Isaac Israeli: A Neoplatonic Philosopher of the Early Tenth Century (London: Oxford University Press, 1958), 191–92. 50 Alexander Altmann, “The Delphic Maxim in Medieval Islam and Judaism,” In Biblical and Other Studies, edited by Alexander Altmann, 196–232. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963. 225. On the Arabic version and the English translation of the Plotinian passage in Aristotle’s Theology, see Howard Kreisel, Prophecy: The History of an Idea in Medieval Jewish Philosophy (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2001), 627 n. 13. For a discussion on the book in the medieval world, see Paul Fenton, “The Arabic and Hebrew Version of the Theology of Aristotle.” In Pseudo-Aristotle in the Middle Ages: The Theology and Other Texts, ed. J. Kraye, W. F. Ryan, and C. B. Schmitt, 241–64 (London: Warburg Institute, University of London, 1986). 51 See Alexander Altmann, “The Ladder of Ascension,” in Biblical and Other Studies, ed. Alexander Altmann (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963), 41–72, who mentions the article by Joseph Horovitz, “Muhammeds Himmelfahrt,” Der Islam 11 (1919): 159–83, which alludes to Muhammed’s possible acquaintance with a number of sources, including the narrative of Jacob’s ladder in Gen. 28, the depictions of ascents to Heaven in Enoch, the Apocalypse of Baruch, and the Ascension of Isaiah, and the ecstatic techniques of Yordei Merkabah and Heikhalot Rabbah, chap. 15. According to Altmann, the narrative in the Quran was interpreted in three different ways in the Islamic culture: literally, especially by Al-Tabari (839–923); in Sufism, as interiorization; and as a neo-Platonic allegory, especially in Islamic philosophical works. See Altmann’s references to the book Rasail Ikhwan al-Safa (Cairo, 1928) (Altmann, “Ladder of Ascension,” 44–45) and to Kitab al-Hadaiq by the Spanish philosopher Ibn al-Sid al-Batalyusi (1052–1127) (ibid., 46–47). In my opinion, by casting the Neoplatonist interpretation in a solely allegorical light, Altmann contradicts the testimony that he himself brought of al-Farabi’s knowledge of Neoplatonist ecstasies depicted above. That is, the Neoplatonist interpretation of spiritual ascents, which was so influential for Jewish philosophy and the Kabbalah, could have been merely an ideational allegory, as Altmann argues, but there is no question that it could also have served as the basis for experiential interiorization. 52 See al-Hallaj, Kitab al Tawasin: Kamran, Ana al-haqq. On al-Hallaj, see Lois Massignon, The Passion of al-Hallaj: Mystic and Martyr of Islam, trans. Herbert Mason (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982).



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of the ninth century), who depicted his personal ascents to heaven, this elevation was perceived as the inner ascent of the spirit. In Sufi mystical prayer, the worshiper introspectively contemplates his soul, and realizes that the very possibility of prayer means God’s acting within the worshiper. As Rumi asserts: “If they that are thirsty seek water from the world (yet) water too seeks in the world them that are thirsty.”53 Schimmel quotes Ibn Qayyim al-Jauziyya (died 1350) as saying: “And He is the Most High who praises Himself through the tongue of the praising one.”54 In the depiction of the higher degrees of the Sufi dhikr, which is reminiscent of the Eastern meditations,55 the Sufi reaches a state of introspective contemplation in the course of which the boundaries between the subjective and the objective disappear. Schimmel exemplifies this state with quotations from Sufi teachers, including Shibli, who says: “True dhikr is that you forget your dhikr”;56 and Rumi: “I am not I, you are not you, nor are you I. I am at once I and you, you are at once you and I. In my relation to you, O beauty of Khotan, I am perplexed whether you are I or I am you.”57 These states, which epitomize unio mystica, raise the question of whether the regular categories of interiorization can apply to them. On the one hand, this state is clearly dependent upon inward focusing; while on the other, the internalizer attains a total negation of the distinction between inner and outer, and his entire outlook on the world is reversed. In his youth, Buber claimed that the entire unio mystica experience is the soul’s inward focusing (“standing”) within itself.58 Later in life, he realized that the importance of absorption within oneself lies in one’s ability to anticipate the actual encounter between a person and what is not him.59 The 53 Rumi, Mathnawi 1:1741. For English translation, see Jalal al-Din Rumi, The Mathnawi of Jalalu’ddin Rumi, vol. 2, ed. and trans. Reynold A. Nicholson (London: Luzac, 1968– 1972), 95. 54 Ibn Qayyim al-Jauziyya, Kitab asrar as-salat, fol. 14a (as cited in Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions, 164). On the entire issue, see Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions, 160–67. 55 See Ernst Bannerth, “Dhikr et Khalwa d’apres Ibn ‘At’ Allah,” Melanges 126 (1974): 65–90; and see also the references to a discussion of the parallels among Christian mystics, in India, and in Japan: Idel, New Perspectives, 322, nn. 153–156. 56 Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions, 172. See also the discussion on sama’ [the Sufi dance], 178–86. 57 Jalal al-Din Rumi, Ruba‘iyat hadrat-i Mawlana, following the translation of Goldziher, Introduction, 135. 58 Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 2–4. 59 Buber, I and Thou, 84–93.

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American philosopher Clarence Irving Lewis explained in the following passage why, although the mystic can attain a vivid experience of presence and substantiality by means of inner focusing, this is still an intellective, and therefore inner, experience: The mystic, for example, values preeminently that experience which he interprets as being the immediate presence to, and coalescence with, his own mind of the transcendent object which he seeks. But he will readily grant the presence and determining character of conceptual interpretation in ordinary non-mystical experience. Only he condemns the object of such experience as illusion or mere appearance. The world of every-day is not, for him, ultimately real; or at least its true nature is not revealed in ordinary experience. The moment of true insight is that in which the distinctions and relations which discursive thought creates are shorn away and reality stands forth, in luminous immediacy, as it truly is. Now all men restrict the word “knowledge” to the apprehension of the real. Hence the mystic’s metaphysical conception, which leads him to use the word “real” differently than other men, likewise moves him to restrict the term “knowledge” to the peculiar experience in which this “reality” is apprehended. That in the ordinary experience which other men trust as truly cognitive, the element of interpretation is present, he fully recognizes and even insists upon. He recognizes also that this conceptual element represents something induced by the construction or attitude of the mind itself.60

Inward Focusing in Jewish Sources Inward Focusing in the World of the Sages of the Mishnah and Talmud The portrayals of R. Akiva’s ecstatic prayer61 attest to the considerable degree of his self-oblivion during prayer. These descriptions are reminiscent of the “prayer of the lips” researched by Naeh. This form of prayer was based on self-oblivion and limiting intellective intent and personal will, in

60 Clarence Irving Lewis, Mind and the World-Order: Outline of a Theory of Knowledge (New York: Scribner’s, 1929), 37. What Lewis says is of special importance, since he was the student of James, Dewey, and Pierce. 61 BT Berakhot 31a; T Berakhot 3:5. See above, Chapter one, 92, n. 137.



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order to achieve the “routinization” [shgirut] of prayer.62 The ecstatic prayer of Tannaim such as R. Hanina ben Dosa and R. Akiva counters Urbach’s and Halperin’s claims of the lack of evidence of ecstatic mysticism among the Tannaim.63 Those sages perceived routinized prayer, as Naeh explains, as evidence of its divine acceptance. Judging prayer by this criterion emphasizes its passive element: the more “routinized” the prayer [i.e., the more fluent its recitation], the less its dependence on the worshiper’s intents and desires. This element is the basis for the conception that regards the manner of a prayer’s occurrence as the sign of its acceptance: the speaker feels as if it is not his active consciousness that guides his speaking, but force majeure; as if he is being aided from Heaven, who is in partnership with him, in his prayer.64

The intent required of the worshiper by this understanding is not that of the words, nor “directing the heart to our Father in Heaven” (see M Rosh Hashanah 3:8) or to the Temple.65 This is a different sort of prayer, one made possible by restricting the worshiper’s self-will and self-consciousness, and openness to the spontaneous verbality that, at least to some extent, seems close to the phenomenon of prophesying. It is only the worshiper’s introspective contemplation of the manner of his prayer that can teach him whether it is routine or not. From this observation the worshiper reveals God active within him, and becomes aware of his prayer’s acceptance. This prayer is proximate to the late Kabbalistic phenomenon known as “the Divine Presence speaking from his throat,” that will be discussed below. I am not arguing that R. Hanina or R. Akiva themselves necessarily thought that prayer acceptance is a subjective event that takes place in a person’s psyche. Interiorization is expressed in the worshiper’s perception of his introspective self-contemplation, whether at the time of the event, or immediately afterwards. This contemplation leads to a religious experience 62 See Naeh, “‘Creates the Fruit’”; and the above discussion, chapter one, 93. 63 Ephraim Elimelech Urbach, “The Traditions of Merkabah Mysticism in the Tannaitic Period” [Heb], in Studies in Mysticism and Religion Presented to Gershom G. Scholem, ed. E. E. Urbach, R. J. Zwi Werblowsky, and Ch. Wirszubski, Hebrew section (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1967), 12–13; David J. Halperin, The Merkabah in Rabbinic Literature (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1980), 183–84. In opposition to these approaches, see Ithamar Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism (Leiden: Brill, 1980), 82–93; Liebes, Sin of Elisha, 6–7. 64 Naeh, “‘Creates the Fruit,’” 191. 65 See above, chapter one, 92, n.135.

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of a sense of acceptance. In this manner R. Hanina, R. Akiva, and those worshiping in this way might very well (as Naeh argues) have been attentive to the prayer process, seeing it as an external act of lovingkindness in which the gates of Heaven are opened for them. Even if, however, this was their understanding of the process, the technique they employed was not one of conceptual, intellective contemplation, but rather of inner attentiveness to the manner in which they uttered the prayer. This is not inward focusing, but inner contemplation of the prayer recited by the worshiper. Prayer that has been routinized (for routine prayer, see above, chapter one, p. 93.) is made possible by the conscious repetition of the words of the prayer, without awareness of their content. In this manner, the worshiper seeks to enhance the spontaneity of his prayer, since this attests to the divine activity within him.

The Heikhalot Literature and Yordei ha-Merkabah Scholem argued in his description of the Heikhalot literature and Yordei ha-Merkabah (i.e., those who are occupied with the Merkabah, the Heavenly Chariot) that this was the ecstatic mysticism of those seeking theophanies and knowledge of God. Thus, they were interested solely in the ecstatic; for them, the human ethical aspect was marginal.66 Despite the debate concerning the nature of the sources of Yordei ha-Merkabah, that Scholem said were Gnostic, his characterization of the Heikhalot literature as focused on ecstatic “mystic ascent,” based on the terminology used by this literature, is shared by all the researchers in the field.67 R. Ishmael said: When I ascended on high to behold the vision of the Chariot [Merkabah], and had entered the six Halls, one within the other. As soon as I reached the door of the Seventh Hall, I stood still in prayer before the Holy One, blessed be He, and lifting up my eyes on high (i.e. toward the Divine Majesty), I said: “Lord of the Universe . . . 66 Scholem, Major Trends, 79; idem, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1965). 67 Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism, 98–109. Halperin, who disagreed with the exclusive attribution of the Merkabah literature to the Tannaim and Amoraim, concurred with the characterization of this literature as ecstatic mysticism: Halperin, Merkabah, 179–88.



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Then I entered the Seventh Hall, and he led me to the camp(s) of the Shekhinah, and placed me before the Throne of Glory to behold the Chariot. As soon as the princes of the Chariot and the flaming Serafim perceived me, they fixed their eyes upon me. Instantly trembling and shuddering seized me and I fell down and was benumbed by the radiant image of their eyes and the splendid appearance of their faces.68

This central and characteristic ceremony of the Heikhalot literature attests to this literature’s visionary content and the trance experience that it includes, as Haviva Pedaya has shown at length.69 From this perspective, this literature should be discussed in the context of the preceding chapter, with its focus on contentual paranormal experiences. In light, however, of R. Hai Gaon’s interiorized interpretation of gazing upon the Merkabah (see below), and the manifold meanings of “ecstasy,” which require us to clarify the meaning of the ecstatic state ascribed to this literature, it cannot be discussed without a prior examination of the meaning of the introspective contemplation in the Enneads of Plotinus. For Scholem, both ecstasy and contemplation are different aspects of psychological processes conditional upon various types of human activism, or as he put it, pre-hypnotic autosuggestion. He argued that self-oblivion expedites pre-hypnotic autosuggestive states.70 Idel concurs that this is a mystical ascent, adding that the spiritual body of the mystic is the entity which undertakes the celestial journey, while the corporeal body remains in the special posture in the terrestrial world . . . the assumption of a double-presence in a context connected to the term Golem may have something to do with the concept of a spiritual or astral body.71

By introducing the terms “spiritual body” and “astral body,” that are common in occult circles such as the anthroposophic school of Rudolf 68 Peter Schafer, Synopse zur Hekhalot-Literatur [Heb] (Tubingen: Mohr, Siebeck, 1981), para. 1, 5; English translation based on Translations-Enoch.html. 69 Pedaya, Vision and Speech, 70–89. See also Wolfson, Speculum, 74-124. 70 Scholem, Major Trends, 49–50. 71 Moshe Idel, Golem: Jewish Magical and Mystical Traditions on the Artificial Anthropoid (Albany: SUNY Press, 1990), 286.

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Steiner,72 Idel actually argues that this is an outer process of the soul leaving the body of Yordei ha-Merkabah. R. Hai Gaon’s response to the question he was asked concerning the nature of the mystical ascents in the Merkabah literature was perceived by Idel and others as an erroneous rationalistic interpretation, since, according to R. Hai Gaon, “it is not that they ascend on high, rather, in the chambers of their heart they see and gaze as a person sees and gazes upon something clear with his eyes; and they hear, say, and speak as one who shelters in the spirit of divine inspiration.”73 For R. Hai Gaon, then, the ascent depicted in the Heikhalot literature is actually introspective contemplation that leads to seeing visions.74 Idel wrote about this interpretation by R. Hai Gaon: Therefore, far from expounding a mystical ascent of the soul, the gaon offers a radical reinterpretation of ancient Jewish mysticism. In the vein of more rationalistic approaches, he effaces the ecstatic or shamanic aspects of the Heikhalot experiences in favor of their psychological interpretation.75

For Idel, who concedes the existence of earlier interiorizing conceptions,76 the interpretation by R. Hai Gaon, who regarded this experience as one of introspective contemplation, is a mistaken psychological 72 On the anthroposophic development of the astral body, see Rudolph Steiner, How to Know Higher Worlds: A Modern Path of Initiation, trans. Christopher Bamford (Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1994), 108–50. 73 Lewin, Otzar ha-Geonim, vol. 4: Chagiga, 61. See also the interpretation of the words “stones of pure marble” (BT Hagigah 14b) by R. Nathan of Rome, author of He-Arukh: “It is not that they ascend on high, rather, in the chambers of their heart they see and observe, as a person who sees and observes with his own eyes something clear, and they hear, speak, and say, with the eye that looks with the spirit of divine inspiration [see Lev. Rabbah 1:3]. This is the interpretation of R. Hai Gaon.” 74 See Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, 4. As Idel showed (New Perspectives, 319 n. 102), Scholem’s reading of the Gaon’s responsum is erroneous and expresses Scholem’s personal understanding of the gazing upon the Merkabah, which differs from the Gaon’s opinion. Scholem’s mistake ensues from his reading of the Gaon’s statement, “Then he perceives the interior and the chambers, as if he saw the seven palaces with his own eyes,” as referring to the interior of the chambers of the Merkabah (see Scholem, Major Trends, 49), and not as referring to the topic of the sentence, that is, the mystic himself. Additionally, the term penimiut appears in another place in R. Hai Gaon’s writings with the meaning of the man’s inner self: “He sees the visions of His palaces in his inner self [ba-penimiut]” (Lewin, Otzar ha-Geonim, vol. 4: Chagiga, 15). 75 Idel, New Perspectives, 90. Jellinek was the first to suggest that R. Hai Gaon’s inward conception was influenced by Sufi sources (Idel, New Perspectives, 319 n. 102). An objection similar to Idel’s was raised by Liebes, Sin of Elisha, 4. 76 Idel, New Perspectives, 319 n. 108.



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understanding, which ignores the physical facts bound up in such an experience. This suggests that Idel perceives ecstatic states as events occurring beyond the psyche and not merely within it.77 Idel maintains that R. Hai Gaon’s interiorizing interpretation removes the contentual ecstatic meaning accompanying the description of the ascent at the heart of this literature, and that this understanding is rooted in rationalist influences that entered the world of the Geonim through the Arabic translations of Greek philosophical writings.78 Obviously, R. Hai Gaon’s response is interpretive, and does not necessarily express the self-perception of Yordei ha-Merkabah, of which we have no testimony. I, however, do not share the criticism of legitimate interpretation that attempts to explain the nature of the events portrayed in the Heikhalot literature. The assumption that every experience described as being out-of-body must include the physical departure from the body is diametrically opposed, for example, to the teachings of Plotinus, who, presumably speaking of himself, writes about an inner experience.79 If R. Hai Gaon’s interpretation is categorically invalidated because it seems too rationalist, then what Plotinus says about ecstasy as an inner experience must be similarly rejected, even though he does not interpret a text but rather describes his own personal experience. The discussion of these issues must differentiate between how Yordei ha-Merkabah perceived their spiritual ascents and how the phenomenon is understood by others, whether traditional commentators or modern scholars. The lack of textual data seemingly precludes our giving an authoritative and unequivocal answer to the first issue. The possibility that the Tannaim thought of gazing upon the Merkabah as introspective contemplation is based on the Talmudic dictum: “Many have discerned sufficiently to expound the Merkabah, and yet they never saw it. R. Judah [says to this]: All depends on avanta de-liba [the discernment of the heart].”80 This 77 Ibid., 319 n. 104; see above, n. 73. 78 Idel, Ascensions, 34–35. 79 See above, n. 14. Idel himself used the term “ecstasy” in its Plotinian sense in his studies of Abraham Abulafia, the creator of what Idel termed ecstatic Kabbalah or prophetic Kabbalah. 80 BT Megillah 24b. Based on this dictum, and in light of R. Hai Gaon’s interpretation, Hananel ben Hushiel argued: “They do not ascend to Heaven, they rather gaze and see with the discernment of the heart, as a person who sees and looks within a speculum that does not shine” (commentary of Hananel on BT Hagigah 14b; see Lewin, Otzar ha-Geonim, vol. 4: Chagiga, 61).

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dictum cannot be definitively understood, because of the vague nature of the wording “avanta de-liba.”81 Moreover, since this teaching can reasonably be attributed to Tannaim who were not Yordei ha-Merkabah, it cannot attest to the latter’s own perception. The style of the Heikhalot texts leaves the impression that their authors assumed that the experiences they portray attest to an external, disembodied experience. Another contemporaneous testimony is that by Paul, who is skeptical whether ascents to the heavens actually occur outside the body, or whether they result from inner contemplation.82 Paul’s doubts enable us to argue that even Yordei ha-Merkabah, or some of them, might have deemed their experiences to be inner, since Paul, too, does not think that the innerness of these experiences negates their validity and substantiality. This inner perception need not negate the literal meaning of “ascent to Heaven,” since the term originates in the inner feeling experienced by the one contemplating the Merkabah. This sensation is familiar to those engaging in Eastern meditative techniques. There are situations during the course of this introspective contemplative state in which the individual feels that his consciousness is ascending and detached from his physical body, which remains sitting on the ground. “Ascent to Heaven” is therefore an expression of an inner experience of the consciousness of a fierce inner sensation of ascent and detachment from the body; but we need not assign it a meaning of changed outer, spatial location. Some of those undergoing such experiences quite likely perceived them as events in the outer world, but the intellectual knowledge of this being an inner process does not necessarily bar the inner sensation of an ascent to the heavens, which is a conscious experience resulting from inner concentration processes. In her researches on the Heikhalot literature, Haviva Pedaya indicated a fundamental pattern for the experiences described in this literature, one containing several phases: (1) preliminary preparation of a meditative 81 See Liebes, Sin of Elisha, 105 n. 38. Adam Afterman offers an original understanding of the term, as reflecting quiet contemplation of the contents of the Merkabah, which he calls “inward contemplation,” included in the act of prayer. See Afterman, “Ma‘aseh Merkava in Rabbinic Literature: Prayer and Envisioning the Chariot” [Heb], Kabbalah 13 (2005): 249–69. 82 “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven— whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Corinthians 12:2–4).



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nature; (2) a trance that she describes (using Idel’s terminology) as the transition to a different state of consciousness, of the detachment of the astral body and its ascent to heaven; (3) a vision of the image of the body roving about in the celestial worlds, climaxing in seeing God or the Merkabah; (4) shaking, trembling, a fall, the experience that she defines as the soul’s leaving the astral body, in most instances as a consequence of seeing God in human countenance or seraphim; (5) the imparting of the power of inspiration or spirit that enables the mystic to apply the power of speech and hearing, which is expressed in singing or the attainment of knowledge.83 This description assumes (in close parallel to what I wrote above) that inner meditative activity can lead to trance-like states in which a mystic sees visions of God. Many Yordei ha-Merkabah probably assumed that the meaning of the trance that they experienced was a physical departure from their body, while R. Hai Gaon’s interpretation that speaks of an inner process, does not negate the actuality of the sights revealed during the trance. Pedaya, too, asserts that this is not an instance of possession, but meditative activity directed to a transition of the consciousness to trance states in which the visions depicted in this literature—to which Yordei ha-Merkabah aspire in a normal waking state—are witnessed.84 Pedaya maintains that the desire for these visions (also seen in medieval Kabbalistic writings) reveals extroverted mystical activity, to use Stace’s terminology, as opposed to introverted activity, that reflects a desire to encounter the divine within man. She argues that this is depicted in the writings of R. Abraham Abulafia (to be discussed below),85 and has its source in personality differences. Explaining the distinction between the desire for outer knowledge and the desire of external sight of God, the longing for inner-conscious contact with Him, as reflective of personality differences, blurs the line between the varying spiritual goals at the basis of each of these paths. A similar distinction is also discussed by distinction Idel. The aspiration for gnosis, for the theosophic knowledge of God in a number of ways, whether visual or abstract, or, alternately, the desire for conscious waking and nonverbal or visual contact with a divine presence, do not specifically attest to varying personalities, but to essential differences in worldview that emerge in great 83 Pedaya, Vision and Speech, 73. 84 “In contrast with ecstatic phenomena in shamanistic religions in which the spirit of the idol or the spirit of a dead person possess someone, here the person is possessed by his own spirit, that is returned to him by God” (Pedaya, Vision and Speech, 80). 85 Pedaya, Vision and Speech, 97–99.

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part from the degree of exposure to and adoption of more rational thought systems that object to or oppose mythical modes of thought. The term “ecstasy” obscures this distinction, since this general term can be used for different paths each of which enables the occurrence of an experience that is sensed as a departure from the regular self. Consequently, it cannot contribute to an understanding of the different types of experienced content. Those who assume, like R. Hai Gaon, that the variety of visions of God is due to an inner process gain nothing by attributing one phenomenon to extroversion and the other to introversion. Are mystics like Plotinus, who assume an inner source of knowledge, but who nevertheless are occupied with the knowledge of God or experiencing Him, extroverts or introverts? Does such a claim add to our understanding of this religious phenomenon? The distinction between extroversion and introversion is psychological, while I maintain that, from the perspective of the phenomenology of religion, we are mainly concerned with examining the differences in worldviews, the degree of tension between rational and mythical thought, and the spiritual aims at the basis of such disparate spiritual paths. Scholarly claims against R. Hai Gaon’s “psychological interpretation” would identify interiorization with psychologization, but such an identification is itself erroneous. Admittedly, R. Hai Gaon’s explanation is indicative of his more rationalist thought, which prevents him from thinking that visions such as those depicted in the Heikhalot literature are experienced beyond the mystic’s inner consciousness. As I will show, however, his argument does not represent disbelief in the very substantiality and existence of the spiritual ascent experience felt in the psyche of the one undergoing it. Plotinus, who depicted such an ascent as an inner process, made no attempt to diminish the force of the experience of which he reports.86 Psychologization seeks to explain spiritual phenomena as the product of personality differences. More importantly, however, do different spiritual aims underlie different desires, and what is the significance of the differences between these aims? The response by R. Hai Gaon sets forth the common techniques that bring the gazer upon the Merkabah into the supernal worlds which he sees with his mind’s eye: “He fasts for a known number of days, places his head between his knees, and recites to the earth songs and praises.”87 For Scholem, 86 See below, chapter six, 473, n. 80, on Origen’s commentary to Ezekiel, which supports my basic argument. 87 Lewin, Otzar ha-Geonim, vol. 4: Chagiga, 14.



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R. Hai Gaon’s description is reminiscent of the portrayal of the prayer of R. Hanina ben Dosa in BT Berakhot 34b and the entreaties by R. Eliezer ben Dordia when he repented, as described in Avodah Zarah 17a. These recalled to Scholem the Chinese portrayal of communication with the spirits of the dead.88 Scholem commented that self-oblivion is common to all three depictions. An examination of Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai’s answer to his wife’s question in tractate Berakhot supports this understanding: “‘Is Hanina greater than you?’ He said to her: ‘No, but he is like a servant before the king, and I am like a nobleman before the king.’”89 Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai’s pride is the source of his prayer’s weakness in comparison with that of R. Hanina, whose force ensues from his humility. Humility is conditional upon negating one’s self-worth, which Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai calls being “like a servant before the king.” The self-oblivion discussed here is similar to that mentioned earlier as a condition for the “prayer of the lips.” Placing one’s head between one’s knees is a kind of fetal position, as presented in BT Niddah 30b, that expresses the wish to once again disappear or to be sheltered in the mother’s womb, which is compared to God as Creator.90 Even if the interpretation of R. Hai Gaon and those following in his footsteps are the result of late (Sufi and other) influences, the external portrayals of the head between the knees present a type of inward focusing of the self, that entails the nullification of the ego. Even if the authors of the Heikhalot literature perceived their ascent to Heaven as occurring physically, outside the body, and not in the spirit (as in R. Hai Gaon’s interpretation), their activity was based on such inward focusing and self-recollection effected by the prayers they repeated, as preparation for the ecstatic state that they would produce. The continuation of R. Hai Gaon’s response indicates that, despite his assertion that this is an inner process and not an outer phenomenon, it cannot be understood as psychologization, in terms of autosuggestion.91 “We believe that the Holy One, blessed be He, performs 88 Scholem, Major Trends, 50. 89 BT Berakhot 34b. 90 On this position see Paul B. Fenton, “‘The Head between the Knees’” [Heb], Daat 32–33 (1994): 19–29. 91 Margaretta Bowers and Samuel Glasner wrote of the affinity of ecstatic mystic and autosuggestive hypnotic states (Bowers and Glasner, “Auto-Hypnotic Aspects of the Jewish Cabbalistic Concept of Kavanah,” Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis 6 (1958): 3–23). Hollenback, who placed greater emphasis on concentration and recollection, expanded the discussion on the connection between mystic visions (that are the product of active imagination) and phantasms, images, and emotional states

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miracles for the righteous and great wonders, and it is not difficult for Him that He shows them, inwardly, visions of His chambers [heikhalav] and the array of His angels.”92 In the end of his response, R. Hai Gaon emphasizes the miraculous nature of the inner sights, even if they are seen with an inner faculty, and not an outer one. In line with his definition of the miraculous (immediately following), this means that, for the Gaon, inner visions are true: As regards your opinion that a discerning person would not think thusly, know that this is something that is impossible. If a person claims that it is possible, as one who claims, “I was in Babylonia on that day, from morning to night, and also on that day I was in Media from morning to night, but in a miraculous manner and by means of the utterance of [a divine] Name,” all this is vanity. Certainly, there are things that are objects as thin and light as the wind, that a person’s eyesight cannot see; and when the Holy One, blessed be He, desires to augment a person’s eyesight in order to see them, He augments, and that person, whose eyes have been opened more than his fellow’s, will see them. It therefore is written (Num. 22:31): “Then the Lord uncovered Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way,” for the angels are as the wind, which are beyond a person’s eyesight, except for a person whose eyesight is changed by his Creator from ordinary human eyesight. Accordingly, it is written (Dan. 10:7): “I, Daniel, alone saw the vision; the men who were with me did not see the vision,” for if he did not see in a vision, the Holy One, blessed be He, altered his eyesight; and if (Hollenback, Mysticism, 180–88, 282). His approach differs from that of Scholem, who assumed the suggestive nature of ecstatic states and their complete subjectivity. Although common sense sees a fundamental distinction between cognitive perception and imaginary, hypnotic, or ecstatic states, Hollenback finds continuity between them. He bases this argument on a number of studies in hypnosis and psychiatry, such as Vitus Droscher, The Magic of the Senses: New Discoveries in Animal Perceptions, trans. Ursula Lehrburger and Oliver Coburn (London: W. H. Allen, 1969); Simeon Edmunds, Hypnosis and Psychic Phenomena (North Hollywood, CA: Wilshire, 1972); William Needles, “Stigmata Occurring in the Course of Psychoanalysis,” Psychoanalytic Quarterly 12, no. 1 (1943): 23–39; Henri F. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry (New York: Basic Books, 1970). For Hollenback, mystic experiences, ecstatic experiences, and hypnotic trances represent states that, in practice, share the same psychological mechanisms that operate our enculturation systems and enable our orientation in the world. Understanding what is common to mystical and parapsychological ecstatic experiences could aid us in questioning the natural tendency to regard inner experiences as a solipsistic subjective phenomenon. See Hollenback, Mysticism, 281–90. 92 Lewin, Otzar ha-Geonim, vol. 4: Chagiga, 15.



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in a prophetic vision, then it was as a dream, and we wonder at this, since a great terror fell upon them.93

This clearly shows that R. Hai Gaon believed in the existence of paranormal phenomena such as clairvoyance; and what he writes about the mystical experience of Yordei ha-Merkabah, as being introspective contemplation, is consistent with his beliefs.94 It is quite likely that the dichotomy used by Scholem to describe Yordei ha-Merkabah, as Gnostics who were unconcerned with moral questions, reflects the dichotomy in Scholem’s own conceptions, but not necessarily matters in the spiritual world of those he researched. The characteristic admiration of humility and disgust at pride in the moral world of pietists in Judaism and in other religions throughout the ages are also directly linked to mystical aspirations.95 The well-known connection between humility and revelation, too, shows the mutual dependence of mystical revelation and human inwardness. Indeed, R. Hai Gaon believed that many of the sages who sought to gaze upon the Merkabah “thought that one who is upstanding in several mentioned and clarified traits” could merit such visions. To sum up this question, assuming that inward focusing and introspective contemplation are the way to attain ecstatic experiences, like those of Yordei ha-Merkabah, does not automatically lead one to believe that these are solely illusory subjective experiences.96 Even if Yordei ha-Merkabah themselves thought their experience to be external and not an inner occurrence resulting from meditative inner focusing—as did R. Hai Gaon, the latter’s interpretation of the Merkabah, which was accepted by R. Hananel, R. Nathan of Rome, and the Tosafists—marks the beginning of a new spiritual tradition in Judaism. This new tradition was aware of the interiorizing nature of spiritual activity meant to attain contact with the divine presence in the world. This new interpretation of Yordei ha-Merkabah’s inward focusing directly influenced the attempts to revive such focusing in Judaism from then on. Notwithstanding the ability of inward focusing to also result in verbal experiences and visions, as in the case of 93 Ibid., 19; see also 26, R. Hai Gaon’s assertion that the test of prophecy is “a change of the world’s laws and practices.” 94 R. Hai Gaon’s conception is strikingly similar to explanations such as those by Hollenback presented above. 95 See Liebes, Sin of Elisha. 96 On introspection as an accelerant fueling ecstasy, see Laski, Ecstacy, 203.

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Yordei ha-Merkabah, such focusing could also lead to noncontentual experiences, such as those of Plotinus. In my understanding, a major factor in the difference between those who experience contentual experiences and those who have noncontentual ones is the worldview of the one undergoing the experience, in particular, the degree to which he adheres to rational and demythicizing thinking. It is this undermining of mythical thought which is at the basis of the emphasis of the experiential and noncontentual nature of the types of inward focusing that are the subject of this chapter.

Inward Focusing in Medieval Jewish Poetry and Thought The phenomenon of prophecy intrigued medieval Jewish philosophers.97 Their perception—especially that of Maimonides—was that prophecy was not merely a historical phenomenon that belonged to the Biblical period, but could also occur in their time; and thus, the need to discuss its character and the conditions that prepare the soul to attain prophecy.98 Despite this, their writings are not overly occupied with the prophetical experience deriving from a person’s positive activity to perfect himself, and accordingly, to ready himself for prophecy.99 In the case of Judah Halevi, scholars find that the apex of his religious experience is reflected in his religious poetry, and not in the Kuzari:100 Toward the source of life, of truth, I run, Impatient with a life of vanity, To see my Master’s face is all I want, None other do I fear, none else revere. If only I could see Him in a dream, I’d sleep at ease, not caring if I died. 97 Kreisel, Prophecy. 98 Abraham J. Heschel, “Did Maimonides Believe that He Had Attained the Rank of Prophet?,” in Heschel, Prophetic Inspiration after the Prophets: Maimonides and Other Medieval Authorities, ed. Morris M. Faierstein (Hoboken: Ktav, 1996), 69–126, esp. 112–19. 99 Kreisel, Prophecy, 625–26. On the exceptional influence of the Sufi longing “to receive the Divine Presence in every heart and every soul” (Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad Al-Ghazzali, Ma’aznei Zedek [Jerusalem, 1975], 48) on R. Abraham son of Maimonides, see Heschel, “Did Maimonides Believe,” 184–87. 100 Kreisel, Prophecy, 627–28; Wolfson, “Merkavah Traditions.”



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If I could see His face within my heart, My eyes would never turn their gaze outside.101

And similarly, in the poetry of Solomon Ibn Gabirol: Three things there are, together in my eye That keep the thought of Thee forever nigh. I think about Thy great and holy name Whenever I look up and see the sky. My thoughts are roused to know how I was made, Seeing the earth’s expanse, where I abode. The musings of my mind, when I look inside At all times, “O my soul, bless Adonai.”102

The zeitgeist that combines the longing for contact with the divine with the awareness that this contact occurs within a person’s inner self, and not in external planes, infuses the poetry of Judah Halevi and Ibn Gabirol. Neoplatonist inward focusing profoundly influenced medieval Jewish thought on an intellectual level, and also in the experiential realm.103 R. Shem Tov ben Joseph Falaquera writes in Sefer ha-Maalot, under the influence of the Theology of Aristotle: The philosopher said, the speaking soul that at times will be prepared in some peoples [i.e., languages] when awakening and will adhere to the General Intellect, when it wants to know things, has no need for logic or thought, but suffices with the divine awakening. This is called ruaḥ ha-kodesh. This attribute was possessed solely by prophets and the godly . . . Aristotle said, At times it is as if I enter into myself and shed my body, and it was as if I were a simple substance without body, and I will see within myself the beauty and majesty. This will leave me wondrous and astonished, and I will know that I am part of the perfect and exquisite supernal world, and I possess active life. After I confirm this, I will ascend in my thought from this world to the divine Cause, and I will be as if I rest in it and adhere within it and to it. I shall be above the entire intellective world. I will perceive myself as if I am present in 101 See Scheindlin, Gazelle, 198–201. 102 Ibid., 188–91. 103 Altmann, “Delphic Maxim,” 225; Moshe Idel, “Types of Redemptive Activity in the Middle Ages” [Heb], in Messianism and Eschatology: A Collection of Essays, ed. Zvi Baras (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center, 1983), 254–63.

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the world of the divine Intellect, and I will be as if I adhere within it and to it, as if I stand in the exalted place of God, and see there from the light and the brilliance, what the tongues cannot tell [i.e., what cannot be expressed], and what the hearts cannot contain [what humans cannot comprehend]. . . . In this manner, our sages, of blessed memory, said, So-and-so ascended to the heavens, for when he thinks of upper [i.e., supernal] matters, they said that he ascended; and when he thought of lower [i.e., worldly] matters, they said that he descended. David, may he rest in peace, alluded to this when he said [Ps. 113:5]: “who enthroned on high, sees what is below, in heaven and on earth.” . . . Abu Nasr said, Everything of perfect existence, when men will know it and intellectualize it, what will be intellectualized will be perfect, because what has been intellectualized from it within ourselves concurs with its reality. Its reality outside our inner being will be deficient in our inner intellect, for the intellectualization in our intellects of movement and time, and what has no end, and their like from what exists in reality, is deficient, because they themselves lack substantiality and perceptibility.104

This passage by Falaquera is of importance for us because of its inclusion of the inward-focusing experience and for its testimony to epistemological interiorization, which we will discuss below, and which Falaquera adopts in the name of Abu Nasr (al-Farabi). Here we see how the two draw upon each other.

Devekut, Inner Focusing, and Concentration from the Prophetic Kabbalah to Hasidism My book Human Temple contains an extensive discussion of various aspects of devekut in Kabbalah and Hasidism, in terms of inner focusing and concentration by means of anomian techniques, intellective devekut during prayer, and the observance of the commandments.105 The following is a development and expansion of that discussion. 104 Shem Tov Ibn Falaquera, Sefer ha-Ma‘alot, ed. Lajos Venetianer (Berlin, 1894), 21–24. See Idel’s quotations from Sefer Higayon ha-Nefesh ha-Atzuvah by R. Abraham bar Hiyya, and the commentary on aggadot by R. Yedaya ben Abraham Badrasi in “Types of Redemptive Activity,” 254–57. See Gershom Scholem’s discussion of this passage: On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead, trans. Joachim Neugroschel (New York: Schoken 1991), 257–258; and Altmann’s discussion: “Delphic Maxim,” 226. On the clearly Plotinian source of this text, see above, 229 n. 50. 105 See esp. Margolin, Human Temple, 307–22.



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According to Idel, the technique to attain prophecy developed by Abulafia is clearly interiorizing: “the letters of the Divine Name undergo a process of ‘purification’ by which they are transformed from tangible letters, existing outside of the intellect, into intellective letters, existing in the heart.”106 Abulafia himself presents this interiorization as follows: “but that of which I have informed you concerning the matter of the secret of combination, that when you mention the word combined, then the divine spirit shall rest upon you through the heating of the heart.”107 The technique of letter combination produces the inner state that Abulafia calls the “heating of the heart,”108 that is, the inner-consciousness event resulting from the technique of combination enables the divine spirit to descend to man. In contrast with the concept of aliyat ha-neshamah, Abulafia depicts spiritual ecstasy, prophesying, as a descent of the spirit, or as he puts it, the “resting of the divine spirit” on a person’s inner self. Idel noted that, unlike yoga, Sufi, and hesychastic techniques, which seek to achieve maximal concentration by the repetition of a usually simple formula: Abulafia is not interested in relaxing the consciousness by means of concentration on a “point,” but in purifying it by the necessity to concentrate intensely on such a large number of activities that it is almost impossible at that moment to think about any other subject.109

Idel maintains that Abulafia’s prophetic experience can be described (following the terminology of Marghanita Laski) as “intense ecstasy” resulting from the sudden rise in the level of intellective activity during the recitation of the names of God. Abulafia’s inner ecstatic methodology, as well, teaches that interiorization and ecstasy need not be perceived as contradictory. Although Abulafia’s technique has no parallel in Plotinus’ writings, and even though he presents the prophesying process as a descent of the divine spirit after the “heating of the heart,” instead of an ascent, the two 106 Idel, Mystical Experience, 22. 107 Abulafia, Sefer ha-Melamed, MS. Paris 680, fol. 293a (cited by Idel, Mystical Experience, 39). See also the quotation from Ḥayyei ha-Olam ha-Ba: “and your body begins to tremble greatly and mightily, until you think that you shall surely die at that time, for your soul will become separated from your body out of the great joy in attaining and knowing what you have known” (Abraham Abulafia, Ḥayyei ha-Olam ha-Ba, MS. Oxford 1582, fol. 2a, ed. Amnon Gross [Jerusalem, 1999], 147). 108 On the motif of the warming of the heart in Abulafia’s techniques, see Idel, Mystical Experience, 39–40. 109 Idel, Mystical Experience, 40.

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approaches have much in common. Both Abulafian ecstasy—that is a result of an intentional effort by means of intellective focus—and Neoplatonist ecstasy were perceived by these two mystics as inner processes within the consciousness. Abulafia’s teachings on the inner struggle between the rational and the imaginative stress that the pure intellect’s battle against the imaginings of the mind creates a prophetic process of inner detachment and direct connection with the Active Intellect.110 Although Abulafia emphasizes that this process is wholly inner and is conducted within the individual, he does not think that the “content,” or more correctly, the “prophetic essence,” that is revealed to the person is a suggestive self-creation, but something substantive that is revealed to the individual, within him.111 Idel discovered traces of Abulafia’s methodology, with its Sufi orientation and its singular concentration techniques, in the books Sha‘arei Zedek by R. Isaac of Acre, Badei ha-Aron by R. Shem Tov ibn Gaon, Sulam ha-Aliyah by R. Judah Albotini, Magen David by David ibn Abi Zimra, and in R. Moses Cordovero’s writings. The latter, especially, seeks to combine the classical Sefirotic Kabbalah with Abulafian ecstatic Kabbalah.112 Such an integrative approach can be found in Sefer ha-Temunah. The following passage taken from this work is based on the conceptional interiorization of the direct Sefirot-man parallel that this book highlights. The passage, that speaks of man’s delving into himself, is marked by the full integration of the Sefirotic Kabbalah and the inward-focused nature of ecstatic Kabbalah. The world of the Godhead is revealed through introspective contemplation: Moses used the potential in his attribute of Gevurah [the fifth Sefirah, associated with strict judgment], until the letters came, one form was connected with another, and they were inscribed in the second tablets by the finger of the supreme God, the living God. All of this [was done] in supernal, inner, subtle impressions and allusions. This is the awesome and very concealed picture. Happy is the man who fears the Lord, and if a person will delve deeply within himself, and will give heed to wisdom and discernment, with clear mind and subtle thought, to understand and become aware within this pure and awesome picture, he will find a picture for himself. For the 110 See, for example, Moshe Idel, Language, Torah, and Hermeneutics in Abraham Abulafia, trans. Menahem Kallus (Albany: SUNY Press, 1989), 60–73. 111 Idel comments that Scholem’s depiction of prophetic Kabbalah as “magic of inwardness” should rather be termed “inner technique,” since its main aim is to influence the psyche and alter the consciousness (Idel, Mystical Experience, 41). 112 Idel, “Hitbodedut in Ecstatic Kabbalah.”



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beginning of the building is faith, and its end is the picture, that is, from [the letter] alef [of] emunah [faith] to [the letter] tav [of] temunah [picture], as “he is trusted [ne’eman] throughout My household . . . and he beholds the picture of the Lord” [Num. 12:7–8]. This is called “sea,” because this is the great sea, so deep it has no end, and it is called “living soul,” which is the name of the living God, “and angels of God were going up and down on it” [Gen. 28:12], and each one would receive his mission. The righteous one understood this in his dream, and knew that there is a supreme picture, corresponding to which below are messengers who go up from their place to the supernal picture, and on the ladder they go down below, to the lower one, for the Shekhinah does not descend among less than ten [i.e., a quorum].113

Prayer as Introspective Contemplation and Inward Focusing The intents of prayer that Scholem attributed to R. Azriel, one of the first Gerona Kabbalists,114 were plainly inward-focused at this early stage of the development of the Kabbalah, unlike the conceptual-theurgic Kabbalistic prayer intents which developed in succeeding generations: “Whoever fixes a thing in his mind with complete firmness, that thing becomes for him the principal thing.” Thus, when you pray and recite benedictions, or (otherwise) wish to direct the kavvanah to something in a true manner, then imagine that you are light and all about you is light, from every direction and every side, and in midst of the light a stream of light, and upon it a brilliant light, and opposite it a throne and upon it a good light; and when you are standing among them and desire vengeance, turn to the brilliance; and if you desire love, then turn to the good light, and let what comes from your lips be turned to his countenance. And turn to the right and you will find pure light, to the left and you will find an aura which is the radiant light. And between them and above them the light of glory, and around it the light of life. And above it the crown of light that crowns the objects of thoughts, illuminates the paths of ideas, and brightens the splendor of visions. And this illumination is inexhaustible and unending.115 113 Sefer ha-Temunah (Jerusalem, 1998), 22–23. 114 Scholem, Origins, 416–19. 115 Sha‘ar ha-Kavanah la-Mekubbalim ha-Rishonim zal (The Gate of Intent by the Early Kabbalists, of blessed memory), an anonymous text present in many manuscripts that was first published by Scholem. See Gershom Scholem, “Der Begriff der Kawwana in

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The meditative nature of these intents is also evident from Pedaya’s analysis of two parallel passages by R. Ezra and R. Azriel in their commentaries on the aggadot in the Order of Taaniyot, in which the worshiper’s standing and actions116 are compared with those of the early pietists and the prophets.117 As R. Azriel defines the latter, “it is as if they are possessed [literally, ‘held’] by speech, as fish are held in a net”; or as R. Ezra puts it: “it is as if the rabbi put these things in his mouth and he spoke them involuntarily.”118 Pedaya noted that the experience indicated in these passages is not of a theurgic nature, that is, with the intent of influencing the Godhead, but has rather a mystical-pneumatic character, that she defines as directed to “experiencing the divine spirit within man.”119 She finds that, unlike R. Ezra, who speaks “as if a person ‘placed’ these things in his mouth,” R. Azriel “negates the image of the person who is ‘external’ to the worshiper, and speaks of an inner sensation: the person who speaks is ‘caught’ within his throat. He offers a felicitous term: ‘ahuzim’—ahuzim [possessed-held] by the holy spirit, trapped within the imposed speech.”120 That is, according to R. Azriel, the words of prayer must well forth from the divine spirit, the holy spirit that rests within man, as an ecstatic process that issues forth from within man, similar to the prayer directives from the school of the Maggid of Mezheritch to be discussed below. der alten Kabbala,” Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums 78 (1934): 511. For English translation, see Gershom Scholem, “The Concept of Kavvanah in the Early Kabbalah,” in Studies in Jewish Thought: An Anthology of German Jewish Scholarship, ed. Alfred Jospe (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1981), 171. Scholem definitely attributes the work to R. Azriel of Gerona; see Origins, 416. 116 R. Azriel speaks explicitly there of the worshiper, who “must regard himself as if He [God] speaks with him [that is, tells him what to say], and teaches and guides him.” R. Ezra’s commentary on the Talmudic aggadot makes an abrupt transition from the discussion (also present in R. Azriel’s commentary) on a commandment on which many commandments are dependent, such as charity, to a description of the “thought that expands and ascends to the place of its origin,” which, we may surmise, refers to prayer. 117 Pedaya, “‘Possessed by Speech.’” See Perush ha-Aggadot by R. Ezra, MS. Vatican 244 on the order of fasts, published in Abraham ben Judah Elmalik, Likkutei Shikhehah u-Fe‘ah, Seder Taaniyot, fols. 7b–8b; Azriel, Perush ha-Aggadot, ed. Isaiah Tishbi (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1982), 39–41. 118 The source for R. Azriel’s statement appears in Azriel, Perush ha-Aggadot, ed. Tishbi, 41; the source for R. Ezra’s dictum is to be found in Sefer Likkutei Shikhehah u-Fe‘ah, fol. 8b. 119 Pedaya, “‘Possessed by Speech,’” 574. 120 Ibid., 579.



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Unlike R. Azriel, Abraham Abulafia, the father of ecstatic Kabbalah, did not sanctify the mystical techniques that he proposed in order to attain prophecy and devekut, nor did he give Kabbalistic reasons for the commandments, as Idel has shown.121 Abulafia appears to have bolstered the division between ritual life and spiritual techniques which most probably originated in Maimonides’ distinction between halakhic activity and spiritual introspection in seclusion.122 R. Moses Cordovero’s remarks in Sha‘ar ha-Neshamah of Pardes Rimmonim on the intent of prayer broaden the gap between halakhic prayer and seclusion as concentration, that were fully integrated in Hasidism: As regards prayer: when a person prays without inner intent, in consequence his prayer is as an act without thought. Accordingly, when the prayer seeks to ascend, it is incapable of ascending from the lower Garden of Eden. For the end of action is there, and from there upwards, a person must shed his body and corporeality (which is the act) and ascend in a spiritual reality (which is the thought). The intent is the soul of the act, and this prayer is therefore rejected from the upper Garden of Eden, and has no place to which to ascend there. There is a prayer that will ascend a bit, too, to the Garden of Eden, but will not be able to enter the inner levels. Thus, we say, regarding the soul as well, that it will ascend according to its actions: if its actions are subtle spiritual deeds, with the subtlety of the uppermost level, it will certainly ascend, according to the measure of its garb, level after level, until the end of those garbs, for it does not merit to ascend upwards from there, because of its intent.123 121 Idel, “Hitbodedut in Ecstatic Kabbalah” [English], 104–5 and 141–42 n. 6. 122 “On the other hand, while performing the actions imposed by the Law, you should occupy your thought only with what you are doing, just as we have explained. When, however, you are alone with yourself and no one else is there and while you lie awake upon your bed, you should take great care during these precious times not to set your thought to work on anything other than that intellectual worship consisting in nearness to God and being in His presence in that true reality that I have made known to you and not by way of affections of the imagination” (Maimonides, Guide 3:51, trans.: Moses ben Maimon, The Guide, 623). See also Maimonides’s distinction between the “first intention” to know God by means of commandments such as prayer, tzitzit (ritual fringes), mezuzah, and tefilin, and the “second intention,” the commandments of the Temple and sacrifices, which are given not for their own sake, but to facilitate the first intention of knowing God (Guide 3:32, trans.: Moses ben Maimon, The Guide, 529–30). See Blidstein, Prayer, 80–88; see also Blumenthal, Philosophic Mysticism, 73–95. 123 Cordovero, Pardes Rimmonim, sha‘ar 31: Sha‘ar ha-Neshamah, chap. 5. See also Yosef Ben Shlomo, The Mystical Theology of Moses Cordovero [Heb] (Jerusalem: Bialik

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Cordovero presents the inner worlds as higher because of their great worth, which ensues from their incorporeality. Concentration of one’s thought means spiritualization, in contrast with prayer without such concentration, which is a mechanical activity, a body without a soul. A comparison of statements on intent in prayer by R. Moses Cordovero, R. Judah Halevi,124 the author of Ḥovot ha-Levavot,125 and Maimonides (Guide 3:51) shows a developmental process that laid the groundwork for the definition of intent in prayer as shedding one’s body and materiality by the purification of thought to subtle spiritual levels. It should be mentioned that Cordovero was preceded in the unification of prayer and introspection by R. Abraham son of Maimonides.126 R. Abraham’s teaching apparently had Institute, 1986), 41–45. 124 On the prayer of the pietist, see Halevi, Kuzari 3:5 (trans.: The Kuzari, 137–39). The beginning of the rabbi’s exposition seems to reflect the usual requirement of intent in prayer. However, he insists that on intellectual speech, and not something mechanical or lacking intellective intentionality enables the transition to, and contact with, the divine dimension. The intellective absorption generates adherence to the spiritual realms. The intent that Halevi describes is not in the contentual plane, but in the substantive. Even though the intent is attained by the agency of “every word [that] is uttered thoughtfully and attentively,” it is, in effect, a state of mental conceptualization that consists mainly of release from the material world and immersion in the divine, spiritual world by means of mental adherence to the words of prayer. 125 See Bahya Ibn Paquda, Duties of the Heart, “On Self-Reckoning for God’s Sake,” chap. 9, 363–68. 126 “This explains the superiority of communal prayer over the prayer of the individual, from several aspects. I stipulated with you, at the beginning of what I wrote, that this is ‘in most cases.’ I said in this vein: if the individual prays by himself. . . . This is what enables the individual—at certain times and under certain circumstances—to attain a state of purity by the seclusion in which his inner intent [kavanat libo] is purified during his prayer, such that his prayer is greatly superior to communal prayer. There is a very great intent in this: its beginning is what we indicated above, and it culminates in prophecy, since this is its way. Consequently, the prophets and the sons of the prophets were accustomed to seclude themselves and to detach themselves from inhabited places” (Abraham ben Maimon, Sefer ha-Maspik, ed. Dana, 189). In his commentary to Ps. 84, R. Abraham writes: “‘It yearneth’ . . . the object of the longing for external solitude is to attain inward solitude . . . the recourse taken by . . . their prophets and their followers, ‘the disciples of the prophets and the pious,’ to solitude in the ‘temple’ . . . who have achieved the reunion [with God] by means of the paths of the heart and the proofs of the mind in the course of inward solitude. . . . the tears stream from their eyes, which overflow with tears like a gushing fountain. . . . And the cause of this weeping is twofold. Firstly (it is due) to sadness over (the period) of life that has rolled by and that will roll by without that pleasure . . . and the second of them is intense emotion on achieving what they attained, as the lover, who is deeply in love (and) who has been making efforts for a number of years to meet his beloved” (II:402–405). See the analyses by Pedaya, “‘Possessed by Speech,’” 612–15.



Part Two: Emotion, Sensation, and Experience

no direct successors, and after his death the combination of intent in prayer and the realization of the ideal of prophesying can be found once again in Cordovero’s writings. This integrative orientation was intensified and refashioned in the eighteenth century in Hasidism, following the prayer traditions of the early Hasidic masters.

Prayer and Inward Focusing in Hasidism In the world of the first generations of Hasidim, prayer—and even Torah study—became special occasions dedicated to a particular type of introspective contemplation and inward-focusing. In chapter one, we discussed the Kabbalistic and Hasidic distinction between prayer for man’s benefit and prayer for a sublime need.127 The uniqueness of the second type of prayer in Hasidism is that the verbal content of prayers and the discursive content of Torah study become secondary to the extent that they lose these meanings and focus on noncontentual inner experiences that are produced by the singular way of prayer and study reported by the Hasidic masters. At the end of the preceding chapter, our discussion of the Baal Shem Tov’s spiritual ascents examined the peak moments of his prayer, when, as portrayed by the Maggid of Mezheritch, he seemed to be out of the world. In Human Temple I noted that the ascension of thought in the prayer of the Hasidic masters was not an event that occurred in the outer world, but an inner event within the individual’s thought.128 The Maggid of Mezheritch taught, referring to the rabbinic dicta (BT Berakhot 10b): “What is the meaning of the verse (Lev. 19:26): ‘You shall not eat anything with its blood’—do not eat before you have prayed for your blood”: Consequently, man’s essence is in the blood. Then why is he called man (adam), and not blood (dam)? Rather, he causes himself to adhere to the Creator, may He be blessed, and draws within him the Chieftain [alufo, with an initial alef] of the world; the alef is joined to him, and he is called “adam.” This is the meaning of “You shall not eat anything with its blood”—that is, when the Chieftain of the world has not yet been joined, but only after

127 Above, chapter one, 116–117. See Margolin, Human Temple, 302–3. 128 Margolin, Human Temple, 185.

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prayer, when he has joined his blood to the Chieftain of the world, then he is called “adam,” and he is permitted to eat, but not before.129

At times the nonverbal nature of the experience of connection with the divine in Hasidic prayer is expressed also in physical changes that take place in the worshiper’s body and face. This phenomenon is not limited to the Baal Shem Tov in the Hasidic literature and is generally linked to the concept of enthusiasm: . . . as I have seen some of my teachers and masters . . . especially my teacher, the holy Rabbi, the man of God. . . . R. Meshullam Zusha, who totally divested himself from this world when he ascended in order to cleave to God, to such an extent that he was actually close to annihilating his existence. Thus it was necessary that he should take a vow and give alms that his soul will remain in him.130

R. Nahman of Bratslav presents such states as enthusiastic, in which the worshiper’s state of consciousness has been altered. He called this new state one of “not knowing”: This is why we see that sometimes a person is inspired during prayer and says many words with tremendous fervor. It is because, in God’s compassion, the light of Ein Sof has been opened to him and shines upon him. When a person sees this radiant light—“Even though he might not see, his mazal [fortune] sees” (Megillah 3a)—his soul is instantly ignited in great devotion, and he attaches himself to the light of Ein Sof. Commensurate with the measure of Ein Sof which is revealed—according to the number of words which are “opened” and “flashed”—all these words are said with great devotion, with a surrender of “self ” and with a negation of all his strength. During the time that he is negated in Ein Sof he is in an “aspect” of [Deut. 34:6] “no man knows,” so that even he is unaware of himself. But this state must be “running and returning,” so that his existence may be maintained. We find then, that when he is in a state of “returning” he must also bring awareness to his intellect. For at the beginning, at the time of devotion, his intellect was nullified, as is written, “no man knows.” But when he is in a state of “returning,” he returns to his material sense of self and to his normal state of 129 Dov Baer of Mezeritch, Maggid Devarav le-Yaakov, ed. Rivka Shatz-Uffenheimer (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1990), para. 162; idem, Or Torah (Jerusalem, 1968), 151. 130 Moses Eliakim Beriah ben Israel, Beer Moshe, fol. 8c (cited by Idel, Hasidism, 131; see his additional references, 324 n. 191).



Part Two: Emotion, Sensation, and Experience

awareness. And when he returns to his intellect, he then knows the unity of Ein Sof and Its good.131

We see, therefore, that Hasidism offered different techniques for altering the worshiper’s state of consciousness. The traditions, however, cited in the name of the Baal Shem Tov (mainly from the school of the Maggid of Mezheritch) connected these states with introspective contemplation of the letters and sounds of the prayer. This contemplation, which was especially developed in the school of the maggid, has different facets, some technical and others theoretical. The following directive from the testament of the Baal Shem Tov includes specific instructions: “Make a light for the teivah (ark) [and finish it to (the width of) an amah (cubit) on high . . .].” (Genesis 6:16). [The Baal Shem Tov said:] This means that the teivah (word) should shine. [This will be understood by the following:] Every letter contains “worlds, souls and Divinity.” These ascend and become bound up and united with one another, with Divinity. The letters then unite and become bound together to form a word [teivah], becoming truly unified in Divinity. Man, therefore, must include his soul in each of these aspects. All worlds will then be unified as one and ascend, and this effects immeasurably great joy and delight. This is the meaning of “[make it with] bottom, second and third [stories]” (ibid.), referring to “worlds, souls and Divinity,” [for “The Holy One, blessed be He,] has three worlds [in which He is concealed]” (Zohar III:159a). With every word you must hear what you say, because it is the Shechinah [Herself], the “World of Speech,”132 who speaks, provided that [the word] has a “light,” i.e., that it emerges with brightness and to bring gratification to your Maker. This requires great faith, as the Shechinah is referred to as “true faithfulness” (Isaiah 25:1; see Zohar I:22a and III:16b). Without faith, it is, Heaven forbid, a case of “he that murmurs separates the Master [of the universe].” (Proverbs 16:28).133 131 Nahman of Bratzlav, Likkutei Moharan 1:4(9) (trans.: Likutey Moharan, 1:64–67). 132 Zohar 3:230a. 133 Tzava’at Harivash. Translation to English: The Testament of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, trans. Jacob Immanuel Schochet (Brooklyn: Kehot, 1998), 61–63; Dov Baer of Mezeritch, Or Torah, 14 (emphases added). See, in this context, my discussion of the nature of prayer for R. Phineas of Koretz, Human Temple, 332–38.

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The worshiper is to be attentive to the letters of the prayer and the words that issue forth from his mouth.134 In effect, he must split himself into two: on the one hand, in practice, he must bring forth the sounds from his mouth, while, on the other, in terms of his consciousness, he must observe himself and realize that these letters and words possess divine vitality that enables him to utter them. This introspective contemplation of the divine vitality in the words of prayer transforms the worshiper into a “best man”—one who, as it were, accompanies the divine element within him to its linkage with its divine source. Another teaching from the school of the maggid demonstrates that this process of effort and concentration leads the worshiper, in the end, to forget his physicality and to be absorbed in the delight that has its source in the spiritual connection that occurs in his inner self during the course of such prayer: In prayer a person must place all his strength in speech, and go from one letter to another until he forgets his physicality. He is to think that the letters join and combine with one another, and this is a great delight. Imagine that, if this is a great delight in materiality, how much more so in spirituality; this is the world of Yetzirah [Formation]. Afterwards he comes to the letters in his thought and he will not hear what he speaks; this is his coming to the world of Beri’ah [Creation]. Afterwards he comes to the attribute of Ayin, in which all of his material strengths are negated; this is the world of Atzilut [Emanation], the attribute of Ḥokhmah.135

In these writings the spiritual delight accompanying the spiritual coupling awaiting this type of worshiper is compared with the delight in physical coupling, although the latter is deemed inferior to the great delight in spiritual coupling.136 The worshiper is to introspectively contemplate the divine coupling effected by means of what is spoken in prayer, which enables its inherent divine vitality to be actualized in the world. In this manner 134 On introspective prayer in the prism of the research of Hasidism, see Schatz Uffenheimer, Hasidism as Mysticism, 168–88; Margolin, Human Temple, 346–52. 135 Dov Baer of Mezeritch, Maggid Devarav le-Yaakov, para. 57, 85–86 (also brought in additional Hasidic works; emphases added). The italicized terms refer to the hierarchy of the divine world. 136 On the discussion by R. Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye of spiritual delight and its comparison with material delight, see Margolin, Human Temple, 218–21. On the conceptional basis for the connection between spiritual delight and sexual pleasure made by the Baal Shem Tov, see below, the discussion of the Sefirot in man, chapter four, 332–36.



Part Two: Emotion, Sensation, and Experience

the physical, material consciousness of the ego is replaced by an awareness of and connection with its spiritual essence, which is perceived as the divine essence that enables the individual and all of reality to exist. In Likkutei Moharan, R. Nahman presents the contradiction between prayer as a process of detachment, in which the words leave the worshiper, and the Hasid’s efforts to experience the divine unity by his absorption in the experience of speech and a divine inner activity that issues forth from within him. The worshiper is attentive to the words of the prayer, contemplates their inner source, and has the sensation that he remains with the first letter throughout the entire prayer. The words are spoken, but he feels as if he has not left the first letter. Inwardly, he is within the divine unity all the time: And when speech emerges, it emerges from the soul, as it is written (Genesis 2:7), “thus man became a living soul”—which the Targum renders as: “he became a speaking spirit.” The utterance emerges and is heard by his ears, as our Sages, of blessed memory, said: Let your ears hear what you are bringing forth from your mouth (Berakhot 15a). Then the utterance begs and implores the soul not to part from it. As soon as the first letter emerges—such as the letter bet of the word Baruch [Blessed be]—it begs and implores the soul not to part from it: “Considering the great bond and love between us, how can you separate yourself from me? You see my precious beauty, my radiance, my magnificence and splendor. How can you tear yourself away from me and leave me? . . . Therefore, the rule is, he must make the entire prayer one. Each individual utterance should contain all the utterances—from the beginning of the prayer to where he is at present—so that from the beginning of the prayer to the end it will all be one. Thus, when he reaches the final word of the prayer, he will still be holding at its first word. This way one can pray the entire prayer and nonetheless not separate himself from even its first letter. [3.] And know! this aspect—i.e., the oneness—is itself the ultimate goal, as it is written (Zechariah 14:9), “On that day God will be One and His Name will be One.”137

In the Tanya R. Schneur Zalman of Lyady, a disciple of the maggid, develops a method of intellective introspective contemplation that serves as a practical directive before prayer and Torah study, and no less, as guidance 137 Nahman of Bratzlav, Likkutei Moharan 1:65(2–3) (trans.: Likutey Moharan, vol. 7, trans. Moshe Mykoff [Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute, 2003], 14–9.

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for the fundamental contemplative state to which a person should aspire in every life situation: . . . in order to awaken, at least, the natural love that is hidden in his heart, to become conscious of it in his mind at any rate, to be aware of his love of the One G-d in his thought and desire to cleave to Him, may He be blessed. This should be his kavanah [intent] when occupying himself with the Torah or the particular commandment, that his divine soul as well as his vivifying soul, together with their “garments,” shall cleave to Him, as has been explained above. Yet in fact the Rabbis, of blessed memory, have said that a man should never separate himself from the community [BT Berakhot 49b]. Therefore he should intend to unite and attach to Him, blessed be He, the fount of his divine soul and the fount of the souls of all Israel, being the spirit of His blessed mouth, called by the name Shechinah, because it dwells and clothes itself in all worlds, animating them and giving them existence, and is that which imbues him with “the power of speech” to utter the words of Torah, or with the power of action to perform the particular commandment. This union is attained through the drawing forth of the light of the blessed En Sof here below by means of occupation in the Torah and the commandments wherein [the light of the En Sof] is clothed. And he should be intent on drawing His blessed light over the fount of his soul and of the souls of all Israel to unite them. . . . nevertheless, every man should habituate himself to this kavanah. For though it may not be in his heart in perfect and complete truth, so that he should long for it with all his heart, nevertheless his heart does genuinely desire it to some small extent, because of the natural love in every Jewish heart to do whatever is the blessed Higher Will. And this union is his true desire, namely the Higher Union in Atzilut, which is produced by the impulsion from below, through the union of the divine soul and its absorption into the light of G-d which is clothed in the Torah and commandments in which it occupies itself so that they become One in reality, as has been explained above. For by reason of this, are also united the source of Torah and commandments, i.e., the Holy One, blessed be He, with the source of his divine soul which is called Shechinah. These are the two categories of “filling all the worlds” and of “encompassing all worlds,” as is explained elsewhere at length.138 138 Schneur Zalman ben Baruch, Likkutei Amarim, chap. 41. For English translation, see Sefer Likutei Amarim, Part One, Entitled Sefer shel Benonim, trans. Jacob Immanuel Schochet (London: Kehot, 1981), 211–13.



Part Two: Emotion, Sensation, and Experience

In the world of Hasidism, the Kabbalistic formula “for the unification of the Holy One, blessed be He, and His Shekhinah” was understood beyond its theurgic Kabbalistic context. Its new meaning was that the divine that dwells within man, that is evident in the vitality that enables him to exist, and is expressed particularly in the words of prayer (“the power of speech”) or in the performance of a commandment (“the power of action”), must be unified with the Godhead, that is, the absolute and En Sof, which is the place of the world, and the world is not its place.139 In R. Schneur Zalman’s picturesque language, one must aspire to unite the divine aspect of “filling all the worlds” with the divine aspect of “encompassing all worlds.” Since God is also the source of the Torah and the commandments, the introspective contemplation of the fact that the divine vitality that enables the existence of the ego’s physicality dwells in the basis of human reality, in the ego itself (just as it dwells in all of existence), transforms the act of prayer and the performance of the commandments into an act of unification of the divine that dwells in the world with the absolute divine beyond it. In the words of R. Adin Steinsaltz: “This unification means that the essential ‘contradictory’ relationship between the Creator and the created disappears, and, at any rate, is blurred for some time.”140 R. Shalom Dov Baer Schneersohn, a later scion of the Schnnersohn family to lead Habad Hasidism, summed up the end goal of Hasidic prayer in the words: “This is the main thing: the labor in the service of the heart, which is prayer, to have one’s soul draw close and adhere to the godly by contemplating the divine light that clothes itself in the worlds.”141 R. Schneur Zalman was explicit regarding the inner nature of this connection, declaring that there are great differences between individuals concerning the fear and love of God, even if, externally, they all fulfill the same Torah and the same commandments: For we have all one Torah and one law, in so far as the fulfillment of all the Torah and commandments in actual performance is concerned. It is otherwise with fear and love, which vary according to the knowledge of G-d in the mind and heart, as has been mentioned above.

139 Gen. Rabbah 68:9. 140 Adin Even-Israel, A Commentary on the Tanya [Heb], vol. 4 (Jerusalem: Milta, 1989), on chaps. 38–44, 146. 141 Shalom Dov Baer (Schneerson) of Lubavich, Kuntres ha-Avodah (Brooklyn, 1946), 28.

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Yet there is one love which incorporates something of all the distinctions and gradations of both “great love” and “eternal love,” and equally belongs in every Jewish soul, as our inheritance from our Patriarchs. And that is what the Zohar says on the verse: “[Thou art] my soul; I desire Thee in the night, . . . “ that “One should love the Holy One, blessed be He, with a love of the soul and the spirit, as these are attached to the body, and the body loves them,” and so forth.142 This is the interpretation of the verse: “My soul, I desire Thee,” which means “Since Thou, O Lord, are my true soul and life, therefore do I desire Thee.” That is to say, “I long and yearn for Thee like a man who craves the life of his soul, and when he is weak and exhausted he longs and yearns for his soul to revive in him; and also when he goes to sleep he longs and yearns for his soul to be restored to him when he awakens from his sleep. So do I long and yearn to draw the light of the blessed En Sof, the Life of true life, within me through occupation in the Torah when I awaken during the night from my sleep”; for the Torah and the Holy One, blessed be He, are one and the same.143

For R. Schneur Zalman, and similarly in other Hasidic teachings,144 the soul itself is divine: “Thou, O Lord, are my soul.” These notions are based on the conceptional interiorizations and existential aspects of religious life that will be depicted in the following chapters. We can already state, however, that the change in the role of prayer in nascent Hasidism aroused new desires among the disciples of the early Hasidic masters: profound yearnings for contact and connection with the source of life inside them, to strengthen their inner bond with the divine element within, by means of the religious rite, that is called “occupation in the Torah,” centered around prayer and Torah study. This shift was accompanied by the profound awareness that these are inner processes, regardless of whether they are portrayed in terms of drawing and bringing down the godly into man, or as ascent and the raising up of the material to its divine source.145 142 Zohar 3:68a. 143 Schneur Zalman ben Baruch, Likkutei Amarim, Tanya, chap. 44 (trans.: Sefer Likutei Amarim, Part One, 231–34). 144 See, for example, Moses Hayyim Ephraim of Sudylkow, Degel Maḥaneh Efrayim, exposition for Shabbat Teshuvah, 266–69; see my discussion of this exposition in Human Temple, 349–50. 145 R. Menahem Mendel of Chernobyl portrays introspective Torah study and prayer as an act of the elevation of the words to their supernal place: “If a person studies Torah, prays, and utters the letters of the Torah with both fear and love, this constitutes the element of [supernal] knowledge. The fear and love of the element of [supernal]



Part Two: Emotion, Sensation, and Experience

This argument is proven by the considerable occupation with “alien thoughts” that mainly emerge during prayer. This concern is characteristic of the works of the early Hasidic masters, who set forth, in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, a diverse range of ways to contend with such undesirable thoughts. Idel’s recent comprehensive study of this issue, which continues a series of researches on the topic, is unique in its focus on a broad spectrum of ways, attributed to the Baal Shem Tov, to battle alien thoughts.146 Idel distinguishes between three different models, each of which is credited to the Baal Shem Tov: the traditional path of struggle (the agonistic model); the elevation of the alien thoughts, that he terms the harmonistic model; and the way of consciousness (the noetic model), that consists mainly of the understanding that God is concealed in all, and this very awareness leads to the elimination of the alien thoughts. The last method, which Idel presents as being at the heart of the Baal Shem Tov’s new way, is based on what I term “epistemological interiorization,” which will be discussed in chapter six. Hasidism’s enhanced concern with alien thoughts, with all its diversity (as shown by Idel), is a consequence of the Hasid’s intensive introspective contemplation of the events that unfold within him during prayer, following the Baal Shem Tov’s profound alteration of the purpose of prayer (as mentioned above). I maintain that this intensification is an integral part of the deep change brought about by nascent Hasidism, expressed mainly in its magnified focus on inner religious life and diverse interiorization trends.

knowledge create a channel in his mind and in his speech from the source in the world of thought, from the fount of wisdom, and the supernal Ḥokhmah and Binah flow into him. This becomes a single unity: the Torah that he speaks, with the supernal source. This speech ascends to its supernal source by the knowledge that he studies in fear and in love, which is actually the element of knowledge. A complete, single unification is effected, because the revealed Torah flies upward to its source” (Me’or Einayim, Vayetze, 63–64). From the perspective of the individual during introspective prayer, he brings down the Godhead and draws it into him; from the perspective that examines what happens to the speech of prayer itself, this prayer elevates the speech to its place. Both perspectives show inner processes that occur within the thought of the worshiper. Also see Wolfson, Open Secret (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 48–49 for a discussion of this ontological connection between man and God in Habad’s conception of worship. 146 Moshe Idel, “Prayer, Ecstasy, and ‘Alien Thoughts’ in the Religious Experience of the Besht” [Heb], in Let the Old Make Way for the New: Studies in the Social and Cultural History of Eastern European Jewry Presented to Immanuel Etkes, ed. David Assaf and Ada Rapoport-Albert, vol. 1: Hasidism and the Musar Movement (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center, 2009), 57–120 (see his list of previous researches, 59 n. 8).

Introduction: Interiorization in Religious Thought

Chapter one opened with an examination of the relation between myth and ritual, which has troubled scholars since the beginning of the twentieth century. In the middle of that century, the question of the relationship between myth and the religious experience was subjected to renewed scrutiny. His examination of the evolution of Greek myths in Gnostic mystic teachings in late antiquity led the Gnosticism scholar Hans Jonas to ask: “What in the nature of these things (or in their typical course) comes first—experience or thought, feeling or concept, subjective practice or objective theory?”1 He concluded: . . . the theory is the anticipation, not the projection, of experience, making it possible, not resulting from it—an inversion of the relationship as psychologism is fond of seeing it. Here, as often, objective thought is the condition of possible experience. In a different sense I too consider the speculative system a “projection”: not, however, of experiences actually made, but of a total attitude toward being, whose theoretical explication is its own urgent concern. The explicit theory, then, has indeed issued from an existential stance—I call this the primal “‘objectivation,” by which I mean something with transcendental validity. . . . Without an antecedent dogmatics there would be no valid mysticism.2

1 Hans Jonas, “Myth and Mysticism: A Study of Interiorization in Religious Thought,” The Journal of Religion 49 (1969): 326. 2 Ibid., 328; see also the beginning of the essay, 315–16.


Part Three: Thinking about the Inner

Jonas expressly challenged the interpretation of Volker, who found metaphysical consequences of inner experiences in Origen’s teaching.3 That is, he opposed the approach also discernable in the assumption by James, Underhill, and others, that mystical experience preceded myths because the latter must be based on inner experiences.4 Jonas argued that myth is a consequence of an existential reality that seeks its truth in a comprehensive view of life and at times is even initially successful in satisfying this primal aspiration by means of symbolic-objective representations. It is only in the second phase, by means of an interiorization process that employs the psychologization of the mythical terminology, that mythical reality is transferred to an individual’s mental reality. The objective reality of myth becomes the subjective content that nourishes mystical experience. According to Jonas, the Gnostic mythical depictions of the ascent of the soul underwent a process of interiorization and psychologization in the Neoplatonist writings and in nascent Christianity. This process generated the basis for the subjective experiences that are reflected in the portrayal of ecstasy and unio mystica characteristic of the later writings, mainly without an awareness of the Gnostic sources from which they emerged. Jonas, unlike researchers seemingly close to his understanding, such as Gershom Scholem and Steven Katz, who rejected the existence of contentless mystical experiences,5 stressed the existential underpinning common to the objective mythical element and the subjective experiential one. The mystical experience, for Jonas, originates in the existential questions that were first answered by myths that he describes as “first objectified in the representational mythical projection that confronts the subject as a theoretical truth, is returned as a practical possibility to its origin, existence itself.”6 A distinction should be drawn between the argument that the theory is a consequence of the mystic experience that preceded it (an argument that was rejected by Jonas as psychologization) and his claim that the theory is a response to existential concerns. According to Jonas, despite the theory preceding the experience, both—the theory (the myth) and the experience (mysticism)—are responses to the same basic existential questions, and, also, are universal. Mystical experiences are, therefore, products of conceptual interiorization. 3 4 5 6

Ibid., 327. See above, chapter three, 212 n. 2. See above, chapter three, 213 n. 3. Jonas, “Myth and Mysticism,” 318; see also the end of section 2, 320.

Introduction: Interiorization in Religious Thought  •  CHAPTER THREE

This interiorization enables the mystic to understand his experiences as the realization of the contents of the myths on which he was raised and that are now interpreted as referring to the life of the individual. The assumed precedence of existential motive factors to both the theory and the mystical experience enables us to argue for the existence of nonverbal contents alongside the verbal, since both types provide an answer to existential questions that came before the mythical theories themselves. Myths that are formulated objectively do not belong to the direct inner dimension of religious life, but to the theoretical realm. By their very objective narrative formulation they express the externalization of existential experiences.7 The transformation of myths into the foundation for religious experiences is accelerated by conceptual interiorization processes, in which the myth contents are redirected to the inner lives of individuals. These conceptual processes interiorize the external mythic contents by means of interpretation directed to the individual’s subjective psychological life.8 The following chapters will discuss three aspects of inner religious life that also include the interiorization of objective religious contents. These three aspects comprise the conceptual underpinning for a diverse fabric of religious experiences, with the verbal ecstatic experiences and the nonverbal inward-focused experiences discussed in the preceding chapters being one component of a broad assemblage of additional religious experiences.


Muffs explained using the Bible as an example. He noted that the Bible’s great innovation lay in “the revelation of a new concept of personality. The divine personality is, to a great degree, the mirror image of man’s understanding of himself ” (Muffs, Love & Joy, 45). 8 A conception similar to that espoused by Jonas appears in the writings by some modern theologians, mainly among the successors of the Canadian theologian Bernard Lonergan. They tend to present Christian mysticism not only as the interiorization of rites, but also as the interiorization of religious ideas and the Scripture, which transforms them into a profound religious experience. The French cardinal Henri de Lubac argued in the 1960s that Christian mysticism must be understood as a deeper interiorization of the mystery of faith, and that it is enrooted in Scripture, the liturgy, and the sacramental life of the Church (on Lonergan and his successors, see McGinn, Foundations, 283–85). Therefore, he also argued that a fundamental distinction is to be drawn between Christian and non-Christian forms of mysticism. James Robertson Price, who basically favors Katz’s approach, argued that only an awareness of the role of conceptual interiorization enables us to understand the nature of mysticism (McGinn, Foundations, 323).


Chapter Four

The Conceptual Interiorization of Myth and Law

Myths and laws are formulated in an objective manner that is independent of the individual. Accordingly, their interpretation or reformulation in a manner reflective of the viewpoint of the subject, following a person’s more inner experiences, is a process of conceptual interiorization. The conceptual interiorization of laws and myths, which is expressed in inward conceptions and the experiences of those who produce them, allows the outer reality to be perceived as a presentation of the inner human world and arouses the individual to experience and realize these contents in his own life.

Examples of Conceptual Interiorization in India and in the Classical World The ˉAtman as Conceptual Interiorization in the Upanishads One of the earliest and most significant conceptual interiorizations took place in Indian thought, in the chapters of the Upanishads concerned with the eternal element known as Ᾱtman, which resides within man, and in all the world’s components. The seventh section in the third chapter of Brhadāranyaka Upanishad uses a fixed formulation to aver the existence of an inner essence in man and in the world that is different both from man’s body, feelings, and perceptions, and from the constituents of the natural


Part Three: Thinking about the Inner

world. The outer world exists by means of an eternal inner and imperceptible essence that dwells in all: This self (ātman) of yours who is present within but is different from the earth, whom the earth does not know, whose body is in the earth, and who controls the earth from within—he is the inner controller, the immortal. . . . This self of yours who is present within but is different from darkness, whom darkness does not know, whose body is darkness, and who controls darkness from within—he is the inner controller, the immortal. This self of yours who is present within but is different from light, whom light does not know, whose body is light, and who controls light from within—he is the inner controller, the immortal. This self of yours who is present within but is different from mind, whom mind does not know, whose body is mind, and who controls mind from within—he is the inner controller, the immortal. . . . He sees, but he can’t be seen; he hears, but he can’t be heard; he thinks, but he can’t be thought of; he perceives, but he can’t be perceived. Besides him, there is no one who sees, no one who hears, no one who thinks, and no one who perceives. It is this self of yours who is the inner controller, the immortal. All besides this is grief.1

The eternal element is present in each of the physical forms in the world, but is not identical to them. It is in man, as it is in everything else. It maintains everything, but is different from everything. The identification of the eternal with the essence in man and presenting it as controlling all brings the Upanishad’s audience to the understanding that the outer reality is actually controlled by that eternal element within man; and that is the enduring factor that enables the world to be what it is. What is the relationship in the Upanishad between the eternal within to the manifest eternal that is not hidden within? Then Usasta Cākrayāna began to question him: “Yājnavalkya,” he said, “explain to me the Brahman that is plain and not cryptic, the self (ātman) that is within all.” “The self within all is this self of yours.” “Which one is the self within all, Yājnavalkya?” ...................................... 1 Upaniṣads, Brhadāranyaka Upaniṣad, chap. 3, sect. 7, 41–44.

The Conceptual Interiorization of Myth and Law  •  CHAPTER FOUR

“You can’t see the seer who does the seeing; you can’t hear the hearer who does the hearing; you can’t think of the thinker who does the thinking; and you can’t perceive the perceiver who does the perceiving. The self within all is this self of yours. All besides this is grief!”2

The inner nucleus that maintains the reality that is perceived by the senses is not itself subject to sensory perception. The individual essence cannot be separated from that of all the natural reality; the essence concealed in man is the essence hidden in all. Now, take the bees, son. They prepare the honey by gathering nectar from a variety of trees and by reducing that nectar to a homogeneous whole. In that state the nectar from each different tree is not able to differentiate: “I am the nectar of that tree,” and “I am the nectar of this tree.” In exactly the same way, son, when all these creatures merge into the existent, they are not aware that: “We are merging into the existent.” No matter what they are in this world—whether it is a tiger, a lion, a wolf, a boar, a worm, a moth, a gnat, or a mosquito—they all merge into that. The finest essence here—that constitutes the self of this whole world; that is the truth; that is the self (ātman). And that’s how you are [Tat tvam asi], Svetaketu.3

Olivelle argues in his translation,4 based on Brereton’s philological examination of the phrase “Tat tvam asi,”5 that its accepted translation as the identification of the individuum and the absolute (That art thou) is incorrect. According to Brereton and Olivelle, this phrase means to show that Svetaku is no different from all the other creatures and that his existence is dependent on that same subtle and unseen essence. In the continuation of that chapter, Uddalaka asks his son Svetaku to split a fruit from the banyan tree and then to split one of the seeds in the fruit. In answer to his father’s question of what he sees, the son replies that he sees nothing. The father responds to this: The finest essence here, son, that you can’t even see—look how on account of that finest essence this huge banyan tree stands here. 2 Ibid., sect. 4, 39. 3 Upaniṣads, Chāndogya Upaniṣad, chap. 6, sect. 9, 153. 4 Upaniṣads, Notes, 349. 5 Joel Brereton, “That Tvam Asi in Context,” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesselschaft 136 (1986): 98–109.



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Believe, my son: the finest essence here—that constitutes the self of this whole world; that is the truth; that is the self (ātman). And that’s how you are, Svetaketu.”6

Brereton explains that this passage opens by claiming that the tree grew and exists because of an invisible essence. It then asserts that everything in the world exists thanks to this essence, the ātman that enables the existing of all. Finally, according to Brereton, Uddalaka personalizes the teaching. Svetaku must look at himself in the same manner. Like the tree and everything else in the world, he is filled with this essence, which is the ultimate reality and the true essence. Brereton speaks of Uddalaka’s personalizing the teaching.7 In my opinion, this characterization does not fully describe the process, even if we now understand that this is not an identification but a comparison that applies to man, as well. It is noteworthy that the content of this personalization is interiorized. A person must understand that this invisible inner essence that maintains all is within himself, too. The connection between the conception of the Ᾱtman and the spiritual practices that developed in India and the East is obvious. The question, however, of which came first—the Ᾱtman that is present in all as an idea, or the Ᾱtman as the essence that is repeatedly experienced by means of those spiritual practices—remains unanswered, similar to what was said above regarding the relation between theory and experience in the GrecoRoman world. Hans Jonas, who examined the conceptual interiorization of these classical myths and the question of the relation between the objective mythical and the subjective mystical,8 argued for an existential basis common to both aspects. Burkitt and Dodds, in contrast, maintained that the Gnostic myths are a direct consequence of the Gnostics’ inner experiences.9 For Richard Wallis, too, the Plotinian hierarchy represents inner and experiential qualities.10 In this book, I will not attempt to resolve this question but will rather seek to map the main features of inner religious life and religious interiorizations in different cultures. This mapping indicates that, despite the differences between the interiorization processes in the Indian Upaniṣads, Chāndogya Upaniṣad, chap. 6, sect. 12, 154. Brereton, “That Tvam Asi,” 109. See above, the introduction to this chapter, 263–65. Francis Crawford Burkitt, Church and Gnosis: A Study of Christian Thought and Speculation in the Second Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1932), 41–44; Dodds, Pagans and Christians, 18–20. 10 See above, chapter three, 220–21. 6 7 8 9

The Conceptual Interiorization of Myth and Law  •  CHAPTER FOUR

world and those of Western culture, we would be poorly advised to disregard their striking points of similarity.11

Conceptual Interiorization in Allegorical Interpretations of Classical Myths Conceptual interiorization is clearly at play in allegorical interpretations of classical myths, as, for instance, in Plato’s and Plotinus’ reading of the creation of man and love.12 Plato’s depiction in the Timaeus of the creation of man assumes the presence of the divine, most sacred, element in the “head”: The divine revolutions, which are two, they bound within a sphere-shaped body, in imitation of the spherical form of the All, which body we now call the “head,” it being the most divine part and reigning over all the parts within us. To it the gods delivered over the whole of the body they had assembled to be its servant, having formed the notion that it should partake in all the motions which were to be. In order, then, that it should not go rolling upon the earth, which has all manner of heights and hollows, and be at a loss how to climb over the one and climb out of the other, they bestowed upon it the body as a vehicle and means of transport. And for this reason the body acquired length, and, by God’s contriving, shot forth four limbs, extensible and flexible, to serve as instruments of transport, so that grasping with these and supported thereon it was enabled to travel through all places, bearing aloft the chamber of our most divine and holy part.13

Plato views the body’s limbs as the outer chariot of the head, that bears within itself inner, intellective, and psychological divine contents. This fundamental notion, which discerns between the outer physical dimension and the inner intellective one (“Soul”) in the head, was developed by Plotinus in the fifth Ennead: 11 To some extent, Brereton’s research narrows the gap that other scholars highlight between the immanence of Indian thought and the immanent elements in Western thought they describe as based on transcendental worldviews. His study supports approaches such as that of Radhakrishnan. See Savepalli Radhakrishnan, Eastern Religions and Western Thought (London: Oxford University Press, 1940). 12 Jean Pepin, Mythe et Allegorie: Les origines grecques et les contestations judeo-chretiennes (Aubier: Montaigne, 1958), 112–24, 190–209. 13 Plato, Timaeus 44–45 (trans.: 98–101).



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It has been shown that we ought to think that this is how things are, that there is the One beyond being, of such a kind as our argument wanted to show, so far as demonstration was possible in these matters, and next in order there is Being and Intellect, and the nature of Soul in the third place. And just as in nature there are these three of which we have spoken, so we ought to think that they are present also in ourselves. I do not mean in [ourselves as] beings of the sense-world—for these three are separate [from the things of sense]— but in [ourselves as] beings outside the realm of sense-perception; “outside” here is used in the same sense as those realities are also said to be “outside,” as Plato speaks of the “inner man.” Our soul then also is a divine thing and of a nature different [from the things of sense], like the universal nature of soul; and the human soul is perfect when it has intellect; and intellect is of two kinds, the one which reasons and the one which makes it possible to reason. Now this reasoning part of the soul, which needs no bodily instrument for its reasoning, but preserves its activity in purity in order that it may be able to engage in pure reasoning. . . . 14

As Brehier summed up this position: “That which exists in things must exist in us too.”15 The central application of this notion is to be found in Plotinus’ theory of the divine nature of the human soul: Our demonstration that the soul is not a body makes it clear that it is akin to the divine spirit and to the eternal nature. It certainly does not have a shape or a colour, and it is intangible. But we can also demonstrate its kinship in the following way. We agree of course that all the divine and really existent has a good, intelligent life; now we must investigate what comes next, starting from our own soul and finding out what sort of nature it has. Let us take soul, not the soul in body which has acquired irrational desires and passions and admitted other affection, but the soul which has wiped these away and which, as far as possible, has no communion with the body. This soul does make it clear that its evils are external accretions to the soul and come from elsewhere, but that when it is purified the best things are present in it, wisdom and all the rest of virtue, and are its own. If, then, 14 Plotinus, Ennead V:1: “On the Three Primary Hypostates” 10 (trans.: 444:44–47). The background for this statement by Plotinus is what Plato says about the bestial element and the intellectual-divine element in man, which he terms the “man within us” (Plato, Republic, 589). For English translation, see The Republic, trans. Paul Shorey, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 276 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1942), 402–403. See also Phaedrus 254 (trans.: 36:494–99). 15 Brehier, Philosophy of Plotinus, 162.

The Conceptual Interiorization of Myth and Law  •  CHAPTER FOUR

the soul is something of this kind when it goes up again to itself, it must surely belong to that nature which we assert is that of all the divine and the eternal. For wisdom and true virtue are divine things, and could not occur in some trivial mortal being, but something of such a kind [as to possess them] must be divine, since it has a share in divine things through its kinship and consubstantiality. For this reason any one of us who is like this world would deviate very little from the beings above as far as his soul itself was concerned and would only be inferior by that part which is in body. For this reason, if every man was like this, or there were a great number who had souls like this, no one would be so unbelieving as not to believe that what is soul in men is altogether immortal. But, as it is, they see the soul in the great majority of people damaged in many ways, and do not think of it as if it was divine or immortal.16

The Neoplatonic theory of the soul’s divine origin is based on the matter-spirit dichotomy and assumes the possibility of separating the body’s instincts and desires from the pure mental essence. The latter is characterized by the good traits and wisdom that are perceived to be divine attributes, and therefore, eternal. Plotinus applies the theory of the separation between the material and the spiritual and knowingly detaches himself from the material world in order to concentrate, on his inner self and on his subjective mystical experience.17 He portrays his experience in terms of the theory to which he professes, and his inward-focusing brings him to dwell in the divine. This setting points to the conceptual interiorization that had its beginnings in Plato’s writings and continued in Plotinus’ discussion of the meaning of the “chariots of the gods” myth or the “losing of the wings” mentioned by Plato in the Phaedrus dialogue,18 and Zeus’ words to the gods that Plato brings in Timaeus.19 Plotinus interprets the mythical images in terms of the human soul’s inclination to be immersed in corporeality, and the reasons for this immersion: The individual souls, certainly, have an intelligent desire consisting in the impulse to return to itself springing from the principle from which they 16 Plotinus, Ennead IV:7: “On the Immortality of the Soul” 10 (trans.: 443:380–83). 17 Ibid.:8: “On the Descent of the Soul into Bodies” 1 (trans.: 443:396–97); see above, chapter three, 217 n. 14. 18 Plato, Phaedrus, 246–249 (trans.: 470–83). 19 Plato, Timaeus (trans.: 86–89).



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came into being, but they also possess a power directed to the world here below . . . and they are free from sorrow if they remain with universal soul in the intelligible, but in heaven with the universal soul they can share in its government. . . . But they change from the whole to being a part and belonging to themselves, and, as if they were tired of being together, they each go to their own. Now when a soul does this for a long time, flying from the All and standing apart in distinctness, and does not look towards the intelligible, it has become a part and is isolated and weak and fusses and looks towards a part and in its separation from the whole it embarks on one single thing and flies from everything else; it comes to and turns to that one thing battered by the totality of things in every way, and has left the whole and directs the individual part with great difficulty; it is by now applying itself to and caring for things outside and is present and sinks deep into the individual part. Here the “moulting,” as it is called, happens to it, and the being in the fetters of the body. . . .20

The Plotinian perception of the soul as the divine element in man is clearly expressed in the thought of the medieval Christian mystics, who used this as the basis for the interiorization of the narrative in Genesis of creation in the image of God. Meister Eckhart wrote that the idea of creation in the image of God means that man’s soul is a divine spark: . . . the spark of the soul, which is created by God and is a light imprinted from above, and is an image of the divine nature, which always opposes what is not divine. It is not a power or faculty of the soul, as certain teachers suggest, and is always inclined to the good; even in hell it is inclined to the good.21

Tauler expanded upon this notion, stating that its significance is that God dwells within man: This image means not only that the soul is made in the image of God, but it is the same image that God is in himself in his own pure and divine Being; and

20 Plotinus, Ennead IV:8: “On the Descent of the Soul into Bodies” 4 (trans.: 443:406–409). 21 Johannes Eckhart, Die deutschen und lateinischen Werke (Stuttgart, 1936), part 1, 332f. For English translation, see Davies, God Within, 48, and see the extensive discussion in Davies, God Within, 47–59.

The Conceptual Interiorization of Myth and Law  •  CHAPTER FOUR

here, in this image, God loves, knows and enjoys himself. God exists, dwells and acts in the soul.22

Additional examples of an interiorized conceptual interpretation of this sort for Homerian myths appear in Plato’s Eros theory and Plotinus’ interpretation of this theory.23 Homer’s Odyssey depicts Otus and Ephialtes, the two sons born to Aeolus’ wife Iphimedia, who claimed that she had already slept with Poseidon, the brother of Zeus. These two handsome sons were giants and because they wanted to ascend to the heavens, they waged a fierce war against the immortal gods, the denizens of Olympus. Apollo, the son of Zeus and Leto, killed them before they reached adulthood.24 This story, whose Biblical parallels are the narratives of the mighty ones, the sons of God, and the daughters of men (Gen. 6:1–4) and the Tower of Babel story (Gen. 11:1–9), was transformed by Plato in the Symposium into a description of the androgynous, as a third gender of original humans who had two adjoined bodies, and moved about by “whirling over and over.” These creatures attempted to ascend to the heavens and fight the gods. In response, Zeus cut them in two, to limit their mobility. The Platonic myth is an interiorized interpretation of the Homeric myth since it explains in psychological terms the aim of ascending to the heavens and being as gods. The holy heroes, who were handsome and strong, saw themselves as worthy of inheriting the place of the gods on Olympus, since they were more perfect than the humans of our time. The secret of their perfection lay in their bodies containing both earthly female and heavenly male elements. According to Plato, man originates from the sun, woman from the earth, and the third sex from the moon, “for the 22 Tauler, Predigten, 277; see the extensive discussion in Davies, God Within, 78–84. 23 Plato, Symposium, 189–93. For English translation, see Plato, Symposium, Gorgias, trans. W. R. M. Lamb, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 166 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), 132–47; Plotinus, Ennead III:5: “On Love.” For English translation see, see Plotinus with an English Translation, trans. A. H. Armstrong, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 268 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), 163–203: “And yet the new feeling for inner beauty which is announced by The Symposium makes itself powerfully felt in Alcibiades’ speech, when he compares Socrates to the statuettes of Silenus sold in art-shops, which open to reveal images of. gods inside them (Symp. 215a-b).” Werner Jaeger, Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, 2 vols., trans. Gilbert Hihght (New York: Oxford University Press, 1943), 2:196. 24 Homer, Odyssey 11:305–20. For English translation see Homer, Odyssey, trans. A. T. Murray, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 104 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 422–23.



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moon also partakes of both.”25 Platonic androgyny is physical and mental perfection, which the philosopher uses to explain the attraction in heterosexual and same-sex love between humans, who are divided into males and females. In his book Yoga, Eliade describes interiorization of this type in the yoga tantra and in alchemy. The alchemists safeguarded ancient traditions in which the material is a store of sacred powers which the alchemists could awaken and control. They did not relate to minerals and precious stones as objects of economic value. Instead, these traditions led the alchemists to treat them as treasures that bore within them cosmic forces, which they sought to harness.26 Conceptual interiorizations are frequently linked to any or all of the following manifestations: epistemological interiorizations, existential challenges of religious life, inward focusings. The connections between the different interiorizations have been discussed by scholars of religion. I define conceptual interiorization as an independent category, since the realization of this type of interiorization cannot always be found in one of the other expressions of inner life.

Conceptual Interiorization in Jewish Sources The Jewish sources contain a unique interiorization of the social law, in addition to the various types of interiorization of mythic thought very like the above examples. Additionally, the conceptual interiorization in these sources is characteristically of a midrashic-literary nature, unlike the theoretical character of the Greek philosophers’ interiorizations. These facts highlight the difference between the above examples and many of the passages I will cite in this section. It seems, however, that beyond this difference, a shared element of these various cultural phenomena of conceptual interiorizations is evident in the transformation of sanctified myths, laws, and narratives in the conceptual formulations that mainly emphasize the inner meanings relevant to every person.

25 Plato, Symposium, 190 (trans.: 134–37). 26 Eliade, Yoga, 259–67, 283–84.

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The Interiorization of Law Nahmanides asserts in his commentary to “Do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you . . .” (Deut. 6:18): “Also when He did not command you, think to do what is good and right in His sight, for He loves what is good and right.” According to the literal meaning, “in the sight of the Lord” refers to what the Torah presents as the commandments of the Lord, that is, it is only by means of the commandments of the Torah that an Israelite can know what is good in the eyes of God. The new element that Nahmanides adds in his commentary is based on his exegesis of the words “that it may go well with you”: “for the Lord acts beneficently with those who are good and right in their hearts,” following Ps. 125:4: “Do good, O Lord, to the good, to the upright in heart.” Nahmanides especially relates to the dictum of the rabbis on this verse: “’Do what is right and good’—this refers to a compromise, acting beyond the strict demands of the law.”27 In effect, Nahmanides indicates that the rabbis’ conception that expanded “Do what is right and good” to include action beyond the demands of strict law is reflective of the interiorization of the law. In his understanding, “Do what is right and good” refers to what man perceives as such in his inner self, that is, in his heart.28 In light of the understanding that God “loves what is good and right,” Nahmanides determines that the Lord’s commandment is not limited to the fulfillment of the law, but comes to fruition in the maximal realization of the spirit of the law.29 In other words, 27 See Rashi to Deut. 6:18, based on the discussions in BT Bava Metzia. 28 The expression yishrei lev [“upright”], which appears seven times in the book of Psalms (7:11; 11:2; 32:11; 36:11; 64:11; 94:15; 97:11), expresses mainly the conception that uprightness is revealed in a person’s inner self, in contrast with his outer deeds, which might be deceptive. Uprightness is close to God, who, as I Samuel [16:7] says, “sees into the heart” and seeks sincerity in a man. An upright person fulfills God’s will not by rote, but within his inner self, out of a profound awareness of what is proper. 29 Urbach writes: “The dicta that we have cited relative to ‘beyond the requirement of the law’ and ‘pious conduct’ [lifnim mi-shurat ha-din, which is rendered in the current text as “going beyond the letter of the law”—trans.] indicate how wide is the range of matters, which, even for the person who keeps the precepts because he is enjoined, remain subject to his desire and will, to his temperament and attributes. There is no autonomy. In contrast to Kant’s ethical system, in which God is no more than an Idea that serves to complete the science of ethics, in the doctrine of the Sages God always remains the Source and the Giver of the commandments” (Urbach, Sages, 1:334). Urbach intends to prove the heteronomy of the system of commandments in contrast with Kant’s philosophy, which prevents him from offering a positive description of the freedom of action within the framework of “going beyond the letter of the law.” According to Nahmanides, in all the instances that are not covered by the laws of the



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the human obligation to the moral command remains in force, even when this mandate is not expressly included in the system of commandments and laws, or when legal limitations prevent the court from employing coercive measures against an immoral act. Such situations were discussed by the rabbis with the new terms that they coined, for the inclusion—within the legal construct—of subjective understandings that expand the demands of the law, of such concepts as “lifnim mi-shurat ha-din” [beyond the strict demands of the law] and “hayav be-dinei shamayim” [liable by the laws of Heaven], which were used to make the legal system more malleable to include such situations despite legal restraints.30 Silberg wrote about the cases discussed in the Talmud31 concerning the concept of “beyond the demands of strict law”: “Their shared element is their willingly taking into account the ‘bough,’ and not only the ‘tree trunk,’ the ingathering of the strict law, and drawing it closer to the central nucleus.”32 This interpretation emphasizes the singularity of the conceptual interiorization of the law. A person perceives the “inner nature of the law” Torah, man is guided not by his desire and will, but by the belief “that He loved what is right and good.” Individual traits determine the degree to which a person is capable of actualizing “the right and the good” in his own life, even beyond the demands of the law. Nahmanides states that the reason for the law is not the arbitrary will of God who commands, but His commitment to the principles of what is right and good. Since the autonomy that the rabbis ascribe to man is not identical to the Kantian formulation, would it be correct to argue against any human autonomy? On theonomy as the combination of heteronomous morality and autonomous morality, see Buber, Eclipse of God, 98–99. See also Avi Sagi and Daniel Statman, Religion and Morality, trans. Batya Stein (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1995), 139–53; Avi Sagi, Judaism: Between Religion and Morality [Heb] (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuhad, 2000), esp. part one, 18–101 and 269–313. 30 On the approach of the rabbis to matters of law and ethics, see Menachem Elon, Jewish Law: History, Sources, Principles, vol. 1, trans. Bernard Auerbach and Melvin J. Sykes (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1994), 141–227; Simon Federbusch, Jewish Ethics and Law [Heb] (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1947), esp. chaps. 4, 5, 8; Moshe Silberg, Principia Talmudica [Heb] (Jerusalem: Law Faculty, Hebrew University, 1984), 66–139; Urbach, Sages, 1:330–36; 2:830–33 nn. 46–68. 31 BT Ketubot 97a; Bava Kamma 99b; Bava Metzia 24b, 30b, and more. 32 Silberg, Principia Talmudica, 132. Silberg noted that, besides the technical use of the term lifnim mi-shurat ha-din in relation to specific instances, the commentators and decisors used this concept generally, to denote all those actions that go beyond the law, just as midat ha-ḥasidut [lit., “the attribute of piety”] is used in the post-Talmudic literature as a general appellation for the laws of integrity (ibid., 132 n. 147). On the meaning of lifnim mi-shurat ha-din in the Talmudic literature as acting within (lifnim) the law, see Christine Hayes, What’s Divine about Divine Law? (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015), 177 n. 20.

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or the “spirit of the law” in his inner self—in the hearts of the good and the right, as Nahmanides terms this. This inward conception of ethics is consistent with the philosophical theories that stress the intuitive nature of morality.33 It is on this background that we are to understand the dictum by R. Johanan: “Jerusalem was destroyed only because they gave judgments therein in accordance with Torah law.” The Talmud explains: “they based their judgments on [strict] Torah law, and did not act beyond the demands of strict law.”34 This teaching reflects the profound comprehension of sages such as R. Johanan of the idea of the interiorization of the law. Understanding the Torah as a solely outer legal-judicial system and not as a system meant realizing the imperative in life of the “good and right” that a person senses in his inner self, led to the tragedy of the destruction of the Temple. For example, an examination of the Talmudic case of returning a purse that had been lost in the marketplace (BT Bava Metzia 24b), that is cited in the context of lifnim mi-shurat ha-din, shows that this principle refers to situations in which, on legal grounds, a person could free himself of the obligation imposed by the Torah. Since such a release obviously entails evading the doing of what is good and right to which the Torah directed its enactment of the law, a person is expected to understand—based on his personal introspective contemplation of the data—that he must exceed the demands of the strict law. This is a struggle against what is now called legal formalism, which is to be replaced by a conception of fundamental uprightness and justice, which a person knows in his inner self, without reliance on the cut-and-dried clauses of the law. The Platonist parallel of this conception is set forth in the dialogue of Euthyphro, in which Socrates convinces his conversant that that which is the holy “is loved because it is holy. . . . It is not holy because it is loved.” Accordingly, “what is dear to the gods is dear to them because they love it, that is, by reason of this love, not that they love it because it is dear.”35 The good act is not good because the gods desire it, or, translating this into legal terminology, because this is the desire of the law, rather, because it is good the gods, too, desire it, and therefore the 33 See Franz Brentano, The Origin of Our Knowledge of Right and Wrong, trans. Roderick M. Chisholm and Elizabeth H. Schneewind (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), esp. 6–7; Emmanuel Levinas, Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo, trans. Richard A. Cohen (Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press, 1985), 63–72. 34 BT Bava Metzia 30b. 35 Plato, Euthyphro, 10 (trans.: 38–39).



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law requires it. Justice and good are not a reality external to man which are known to him because he understands that the gods love justice, or that the law requires that one act in accordance with justice. Justice and the good act are beloved because they are known directly to man in his inner self. In this spirit, we may say that the good and the right in the sight of the Lord, that are reflected in the laws of the Torah are identical to the right and the good that a man is capable of discerning and feeling in his inner self, as is seen in the words of the prophet Micah: “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God” (Mic. 6:8). The rabbis frequently engage in conceptual clarifications of the aim of the law and the question of which is preferable, the observance of the law as it is, or the realization of the spirit of the law.36 On the subject of ona’at devarim [misrepresentation] in BT Bava Metzia 58–59, R. Judah states: “A person may not feign interest in a purchase when he has no money, since this is known only to the heart, and it is said of everything known to the heart [Lev. 25:17], ‘but fear your God.’”37 The laws of purchase and sale are formulated in an objective manner in order to regulate commercial life, but the inner moral element underlies the economic-legal dimension. From this respect, honoring the outer dimension is insufficient. By law, a person is permitted to bargain, but if he is incapable of consummating the terms he has attained, then in his inner self he knows that he has engaged in false negotiations. It is inner knowledge that must determine outer behavior. According to the rabbis, a person’s designs belong to the realm of relations between man and his God, even if they presumably are not flawed in the laws governing the interpersonal realm. This was the basis for the connection that the rabbis drew between the fear of God and the inner moral element underlying interpersonal behavior, which seemingly is regulated by law. Hermann Cohen wrote, in his discussion of the relationship between conviction in legal proceedings based on an examination of the facts, in 36 This is the context for Nahmanides’s invectives against the “sordid person within the permissible realm of the Torah” in his commentary to Lev. 19:2 (trans.: Commentary on the Torah, 282). This is connected with the institution of the prozbol by Hillel, in Tractate Gittin. See, for example, the responsum by Rashba (R. Solomon ben Abraham Adret) on the hiring of a tutor for a minor, in which he states: “all vows follow only the intent of the heart,” following the dictum of R. Judah (M Nedarim 7:3): “It all depends on the person who vows” (Teshuvot ha-Rashba 5:229; and see the basis for the responsum in the narrative in BT Bava Kamma 80a). 37 BT Bava Metzia 58b.

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accordance with the statutes of the law, and the question of a person’s guilt: “When the man is declared a criminal, in accordance with the facts, and he is not able to help himself in the narrower correlation between man and man, in this deepest distress arises the problem of his I, and the broader correlation between man and God offers at this point the only possibility of help.”38 Cohen maintains that the prophets’ fight against the sacrificial rite reflected a tremendous turning point in human thought, going beyond the mythic conception characteristic of the entire ancient world—in which the victim was made to feel guilt—to the moral stance of the individual: the individual standing before God.39 The experiences of guilt and moral responsibility that the written Torah and Oral Law fostered, and that, so Cohen maintains, are conditional on directly standing before God, are an additional and distinct type of the profound religious experiences that are built on the interiorizations of the law described above.

The Interpretation of the Appellation “Makom” as the Interiorization of Jacob’s Dream “He came upon a certain place [ba-makom]” [Gen. 28:11]—R. Huna said in the name of R. Ami: Why is an appellation given for the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, and He is called “makom”? For He is the Place of the world, and the world is not His place. R. Yose bar Halafta said: We do not know whether the Holy One, blessed be He, is the place of His world, or whether His world is His place. From what is written: “See, there is a place by Me” [Exod. 33:21], then the Holy One, blessed be He, is the Place of His world, and His world is not His place. R. Isaac said: It is written, “The eternal God is a dwelling-place” [Deut. 33:27]—we do not know whether the Holy One, blessed be He, is the dwelling of His world, or whether His world is His dwelling. From what is written: “Lord, You have been our dwellingplace” [Ps. 90:1], then the Holy One, blessed be He, is the dwelling of His world, and His world is not His dwelling. R. Abba bar Yudan said: He is like a warrior riding a horse, his robes flowing over on both sides; the horse is secondary to the rider, but the rider is not secondary to the horse, for it is said: “that You are driving Your steeds” [Hab. 3:8].40 38 Cohen, Religion of Reason, 167–68. 39 Ibid., 167–77. 40 Gen. Rabbah 68:9.



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According to Urbach, the statements by R. Ami and R. Isaac, which are based on the question of the Tanna R. Yose bar Halafta, reflect a change that occurred in the world of the rabbis after they stopped using “Ha-Makom” [literally, “the Place”; usually rendered as “the Omnipresent”] as an appellation for God, replacing it with “the Holy One, blessed be He.” In their time, the meaning of the Ha-Makom appellation was no longer clear, since it had fallen into disuse. Urbach argues that this appellation originally expressed God’s immanence, His closeness to man and to the place where he is present. For Urbach, only the statements by the Amoraim impart transcendental meaning to the appellation, after it had lost its original meaning.41 Urbach thereby disagrees with Baer, who understood the expression, among other meanings, as a product of Greek influence that Philo might have introduced into the world of the rabbis.42 In my opinion, the statements by R. Yose bar Halafta and R. Ami need not be understood as blunting the divine immanence, as Urbach claims, but could be seen as expanding the declaration of R. Ishmael: “The Divine Presence is in all places,”43 in a manner that blurs the simple distinction between immanence and transcendence. I believe that this is a more conceptual and abstract formulation of the content of R. Gamaliel’s sun metaphor, the cave and water of the sea metaphors in the Song of Songs, and the like (see below).44 The statement that “the Holy One, blessed be He, is the Place of the world” is not a declaration of God’s transcendence, since the world’s resting within God is not an apt metaphor for emphasizing transcendence. On the other hand, it does not allow for the identification of the world with God, since “His world is Not His place.” The statements by R. Ami and R. Yose assert that God is, at the same time, both within the world and beyond it, and therefore the terms immanence and transcendence are of no avail in clarifying the thinking of the rabbis. In the narrative of Jacob’s dream, God’s dwelling place is in Heaven, and Jacob calls the site to which he came and where he saw the ladder set on the ground with its top reaching to the sky “the abode of God,” because God came down there from Heaven. R. Abba bar Yudan transforms the meaning of the dream, using the metaphor of a horse and its rider. With outer eyes, the rider seems to be dependent upon the horse, but we know that the rider 41 42 43 44

See Urbach, Sages, 1: 74-75. Baer, “Eschatological Doctrine,” 100–109. BT Bava Batra 25a. Below in this chapter, 292–93.

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is primary and the horse secondary. The inner truth is the opposite of the outer appearance. Consequently, the place that looks to us in a dream as where God stays when He comes to earth appears so only from an outer viewpoint. The doubt that Solomon already raised concerning the possibility of God’s presence in his Temple45 is resolved by an innovative idea: the Holy One, blessed be He, is the dwelling of His world, and His world is not His dwelling. God does not come to visit the earth, as in the outer mythical conception, rather, the world dwells within God. The place where God is revealed is not an outer site, it rather is the product of an inner comprehension that occurs within man. An examination of the difference between R. Ishmael’s statement: “The Divine Presence is in all places”46 and what R. Akiva says about the name Makom, to be discussed below,47 will shed light on the distinctions that originate in the different interiorization orientations. Instead of arguing, as did Urbach (and to some degree, Heschel, as well), that R. Ishmael, in his inclination to transcendence, reflects a more rational conception, in contrast with the more mythical notion of R. Akiva, who favors immanence, I prefer to distinguish between the different orientations of interiorization. The attitude held by R. Ishmael and those following in his path results from the conceptual-epistemological interiorization evident also in the statement by R. Gamaliel, and was formulated long afterwards in the Kabbalah and Hasidism in the wording: “There is no place void of Him.”48 In this vein, R. Yose bar Halafta, who in matters of faith and doctrine was close to 45 “But will God really dwell on earth? Even the heavens to their uttermost reaches cannot contain You, how much less this House that I have built!” (I Kings 8:27). 46 Above, n. 43. 47 Below, n. 52. 48 “A heathen asked R. Gamaliel: Why was the Holy One, blessed be He, revealed to Moses from within the bush? He replied: If He had been revealed on a carob or on a fig, you would have asked me thus. I cannot send you away without an answer—this is to teach you that there is no place empty of the Divine Presence, for even from the bush He spoke with Moses” (Num. Rabbah 12:4). Cf. Seneca’s statement about the one God: “nothing is void of him” (Seneca, De Beneficiis 4:8. For English translation see Moral Essays. De Beneficiis, trans. John W. Basore, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 310 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1935), 218–19. See also: “‘I will be standing there before you on the rock at Horeb’ [Exod. 17:6]—the Omnipresent said to him: Wherever you find the imprint of human feet, there I am before you” (Mekhilta d’Rabbi Ismael, Beshalaḥ, Vayisa 6, ed. Horovitz and Rabin, 175). See George Foot Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era: The Age of the Tannaim, vol. 1 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962), 372–73. On conceptual interiorizations, see also the extensive discussion below, chapter six.



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the teachings of R. Ishmael, declared: “He is the Place of His world, and the world is not His place. Then, His world is secondary to Him, and He is not secondary to His world.”49 R. Akiva’s position, which Heschel characterized as opposed to the view of R. Ishmael and those close to him,50 is indicative of an inward-focused experience: Why is the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, called Makom? Because in every place where the righteous are He is found with them, as it is said, “In every place (Makom) where I record my name I will come to you, and bless you” (Exod. 20:24), and it is said: “He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night” [Gen. 28:11].51

The same verse interpreted by R. Yose as the source of the claim that the Holy One, blessed be He, is the place of His world is used by R. Akiva as a prooftext for his assertion that God is present in the place where man stands in contact with God. The sacred place is the venue of the experienced meeting with God resulting from inward focusing.52 Although, according to Urbach, Philo’s interpretation of “Makom” in Jacob’s dream53 is reflective of the Alexandrian philosopher’s Hellenistic spiritual world (which was distant from the world of the rabbis) there is a fundamental closeness between his interpretation and the explanation I offered above. Philo finds three meanings in this term: (1) the material sense; (2) place, in terms of the divine speech that fills everything with nonmaterial potentials (the Logos); (3) the place in which everything is included, that contains all, and which cannot be contained by anything. Philo elaborates on the third meaning: “God for Whom no name nor utterance nor conception of any sort is adequate.”54 According to Philo, the verses that speak of seeing God, such as Exod. 24:10–11 (the revelation of 49 Midrash Tehillim 90:10, ed. Buber, 390–91; Gen. Rabbah 68:9 (see above, n. 782). See also A. Marmorstein, The Old Rabbinic Doctrine of God, vol. 2 (London: Oxford University Press, 1927), 92. 50 Heschel, Heavenly Torah, 97. 51 Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, chap. 35. The wording is based on English translation in Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, trans. Gerald Friedlander (New York: Hermon, 1965), 264; Midrash Tehillim 90:10, ed. Buber, 391. 52 On the differing views of R. Ishmael and R. Akiva, see Heschel, Heavenly Torah, 94. On this notion as epistemological interiorization, see below, 471, n.72. 53 Philo, De Somniis 1:61–68. For English translation, see Philo, De Somniis (On Dreams, That They Are God-Sent), trans. Francis Henry Colson and G. H. Whitaker, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 275 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1949), 328–31. 54 Ibid., 1:67 (trans.: 275:330–31).

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God to the seventy elders), allude to the second sense. R. Yose bar Halafta, too, relates to the revelation through seeing (Exod. 33:20). R. Akiva seems closer to Philo’s third meaning, because of the direct nature of the contact that the Tanna portrays. The perception of God as place in the third meaning of Philo can be only experiential and direct because it cannot be expressed verbally. The interiorized interpretation of Makom—which accords with the identification of the soul with God—appears in a number of medieval Jewish sources: 1. Shir ha-Yihud (the hymn of the unity of God), composed by Ashkenaz pietists: The beginning and the end are ordered in Your hand, You are in them and they are supported by Your spirit. . . . [You] suffer all, fill all, and, being all, You are in all . . . there is none other than Your existence, [You] are living and omnipotent, and there is none save You; You were before all, and being all, You filled all. . . . [You] are and will be, and You are in all; being forever, and thus [You] are known. We shall testify to You, and in You is testimony; that You are He [i.e., God], and are present in all, all is Yours, and all is from You.55

2. Ha-Ofan by R. Judah Halevi: God, please, may I find You, Your exalted and hidden place, and if I were not to find You, Your glory fills the world, that which is present within, the ends of the earth that exists, who is exalted to those close, the refuge to those distant, You, who is “enthroned on cherubim” [Ps. 99:1].56

3. The perception of Ha-Makom in the thought of R. Moses Cordovero: Thus the place of their perception of the verity of His existence will be called “Makom,” from the aspect of those perceiving. This is the intent of “See, there is a place [makom] by Me [iti]” [Exod. 33:21]—the perception that you 55 Shir ha-Yiḥud for Tuesday, in Shir ha-Yiḥud: The Hymn of Divine Unity with the Kabbalistic Commentary of R. Yom Tov Lipmann Muelhausen Thiengen 1560 (Jerusalem: Jewish National and University Library Press, 1981), xiii–xvii (on Shir ha-Yihud, see the introduction by Joseph Dan, ibid., 7–26). See Urbach, Sages, 2:716 n. 39, on the parallels to this conception of the Thanksgiving Scroll of the Judean Desert sect in Paul’s statement in Romans 11:36, and in the writings of Marcus Aurelius. 56 Hebrew Poems from Spain and Provence, vol. 1, ed. Hayyim Schirmann (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1954), 524.



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perceive in the reality. It does not say, “See, I am place [makom ani], because His presence is not that perception . . . consequently, the place of perception is not outside Him, and is not He Himself, rather, that perception is “by Me,” and it is this that is called “Place.”57

The explanation by Eleazar Azikri of Jacob’s dream that appears in the manuscript of Milei de-Shemaya fully integrates all the ideas discussed above: “A ladder was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it. And the Lord was standing beside him” [Gen. 28:12–13]—on the ladder, and according to another opinion, over Jacob [Gen. Rabbah 63:3]. And this is all one, for the ladder is an allusion that the world is a chariot to the Lord, may He be blessed, and the horse is secondary to the rider [Gen. Rabbah 68:9]; and the ladder is an allusion to Jacob, that he is a small world [i.e., microcosm].58

Jacob’s ladder symbolizes both the world and man as the chariot of God, similar to the imagery in Genesis Rabbah of the horse and rider as a metaphor for the concept of Ha-Makom. The world and man are insubstantial without God, who is seated on them, and together they forge a single unity. Just as, regarding Ha-Makom, it is difficult to determine “whether the Holy One, blessed be He, is the place of His world, or whether His world is His place,” as R. Yose bar Halafta asks in Genesis Rabbah, this doubt seems apt also regarding man, who is as a ladder set on the ground with its top reaching to the sky. R. Abba bar Yudan’s metaphor of the horse being secondary to the rider, and not the reverse, teaches that the meaning of man lies in the divine essence for which he serves as a chariot.

The Interiorization of the Myth of Creation in the Image of God The Bible associates the verse “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27) with blood, as is implicit from the later verse: “Whoever sheds the 57 Cordovero, Shi‘ur Komah, siman 20: Makom, fol. 35a–37a. See idem, Pardes Rimmonim, part 1, sha‘ar 6: Sha‘ar Seder Amidatam, chap. 3, fol. 29a–b. 58 Milei de-Shemaya, ed. Pachter, section 281. See the Zoharic sources in Pachter’s notes, 174, and his references to Azikri’s Sefer Ḥaredim: chap. 7, fol. 14b–15a; Mitzvot Aseh me-Divrei Kabbalah u-me-Divrei Soferim ha-Teluyot ba-Lev, chap. 1, para. 31, fol. 44a–b.

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blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in His image did God make man” (Gen. 9:6). Blood is defined in Deuteronomy 12:23 as nefesh: “for the blood is the nefesh.” Bible scholars understand the word nefesh as life, in light of its comparison with the Akkadian napisitu, which, as in Hebrew, is derived from the root nun-peh-shin, with the usual meaning of “life.”59 Since all living creatures are defined in Gen. 1:24, 30 as “nefesh hayah” (living creature), this indicates that the primary simple meaning of creation in the image of God, unlike the depiction in Gen. 2:7 (that says only “and man became a nefesh hayah [living being]”) is bound up with the superiority of the human race, as being capable of ruling all other living creatures. “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth” (Gen. 1:26). According to the Creation narrative in Gen. 2, man’s uniqueness consists of his working the land, since before his creation, “and there was no man to till the soil” (v. 5), and in the continuation of the chapter: “The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden, to till it and tend it” (v. 15). The creation of man is described by the book of Genesis in terms of vitality [nefesh hayah], mastery of all living creatures, and cultivating the land, with the latter two representing economic creativity. These aspects do not necessarily emphasize inner life, and are primarily evident in man’s outer life.

59 See Nahum M. Sarna, Exodus (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 152; Marc Vervenne, “The Blood Is the Life and the Life Is the Blood: Blood as Symbol of Life and Death in Biblical Tradition (Gen. 9,4),” in Ritual and Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East, ed. J. Quagebeur (Leuven: Peeters, 1993), 452–67. “Life” is not the only interpretation of the Akkadian napistu. According to another interpretation, it means “creature,” “living entity,” which could be a human or an animal. An additional interpretation connects the meaning of the root nun-peh-shin with the throat, where the windpipe [keneh neshimah] is located. On this etymological basis, the nefesh can be viewed as a sort of material vessel through which breathing [neshimah]—the essence [nishmat] of life—passes. The Bible researcher Mieke Bal proposed understanding “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19) as meaning that the nefesh is the material element in man that is anchored in the earth, and in the Bible it does not have a spiritual element, such as “soul” or “spirit”; while life comes from God (see Mieke Bal, Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative, trans. Christine van Boheemen [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985], 24–25). In this light, Yael Katz suggests that the phrase nefesh ḥayah refers to a combination of two elements, ruaḥ ḥayyim [lit., “living spirit”] and nefesh, which together produce the living creature [nefesh ḥayah] (Katz, “The Mythic Meaning of Blood in the Biblical Cult” [Heb], PhD diss. (Tel Aviv University, 2008), 141–42).



Part Three: Thinking about the Inner

A number of rabbinic dicta present different forms of the interiorization of the Creation myth in the book of Genesis, that revolves around the creation of man in the image of God (Gen. 1:26–29).60 This interiorization stresses the significance of creation in the image of God regarding man’s self-perception, way of life, and the religious law to which he is obligated.61 According to Lorberbaum, in the school of R. Akiva, the principle of creation in the image of God was the founding idea for the formulation of new laws and positions regarding matters such as the four court-imposed death penalties, the laws of the murderer, and the laws relating to reproduction. He maintains that R. Akiva’s stance was the continuation of the conception reflected in Hillel’s teachings, which, too, reveal an iconic anthropomorphic notion of the image of God, with its assumption of a common mold shared by God and man that includes the physical aspect.62 The teachings of Hillel,63 R. Akiva,64 and R. Meir65 all reflect an incontrovertibly iconic conception of the presence of God in man. The perception of the image of God 60 The perception of the Creation narrative in Genesis as myth obviously runs counter to the Biblical antimythical conception, which is expressed most forcefully in Kaufmann’s work (see Kaufmann, History of the Religion, vol. 1, part 2, 255–75, 419–25). For a survey, and critique, of this conception, see Uffenheimer, “Myth and Reality,” 147; Frank Moore Cross, Cana’anite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973), Preface, vii–ix; Halbertal and Margalit, Idolatry, 67–78. Jewish Bible scholars’ mythic perception of the Bible began with Martin Buber, “Myth in Judaism,” in Buber, On Judaism, ed. Nahum N. Glatzer (New York: Schocken, 1995), 95–107; see also Moshe Schwarcz, Language, Myth, Art [Heb] (Jerusalem: Schocken, 1967), 143–94, 216–52. This conception was discussed by Liebes, “De Natura Dei,” 243–47; Yair Lorberbaum, In God’s Image: Myth, Theology, and Law in Classical Judaism, trans. Michael Prawer (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 43–45 (see his definition of myth, 90–92); Ithamar Gruenwald, “The Inevitable Presence of Myth” [Heb], in Eshel Beer-Sheva, vol. 4: Myth in Judaism, ed. Havivah Pedayah (Beersheva: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press, 1996), 1–14; idem, “Myth in the Reality.” 61 See Daniel Boyarin, Intertextuality and the Reading of the Midrash (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990); Alon Goshen-Gottstein, “The Body as Image of God in Rabbinic Literature,” Harvard Theology Review 87 (1994): 171–96; Moshe Halbertal, Interpretive Revolutions in the Making: Values as Interpretive Considerations in Midrashei Halakhah [Heb] (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1997), 165–67; Lorberbaum, God’s Image, 170–344. 62 Lorberbaum, In God’s Image, 173–80, in light of the Tannaitic sources that he cited and analyzed (156–73). 63 Avot de-Rabbi Nathan, version B, chap. 30; Lev. Rabbah 34:3, ed. Margulies, 775–76. 64 T Yevamot 8:7, vol. 4, ed. M. S. Zuckermandel (Jerusalem: Wahrmann, 1963), 250, and the parallel in BT Yevamot 63b; Gen. Rabbah 34:6. 65 M Sanhedrin 6:5; BT Sanhedrin 46b.

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as iconic presence assumes a holistic approach that does not distinguish between body and soul, and views the divine presence as existing in man, both mentally and physically. We can speak here of conceptual interiorization in the sense that the divine element in the Creation narrative relates to the flesh-and-blood human being. For Hillel, God dwells in man’s body, and therefore washing the body, and its evacuation, are commandments.66 Similar, yet different, possible understandings of the rabbis’ conception of creation in the image of God place even greater emphasis on their inherent conceptual interiorization: To proclaim the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be He; for man stamps many coins with the one seal and they are all like one another; but the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, has stamped every man with the seal of the first man, yet not one of them is like his fellow. Therefore every one must say, For my sake was the world created.67

There are at least two ways to understand this mishnah: (1) the seal of Adam is inner because the outer appearance of every person is different, while the inner essence is uniform; (2) the general form of the human body is divine.68 The latter possibility is extremely close to the view that finds God’s full iconic presence in man, but it is not identical with that opinion since it does not assign a specific form to the image of God.69 The feeling 66 Lorberbaum contends that R. Akiva continues the view of Hillel. In my opinion, a comparison of two versions of the story about Hillel in the bathhouse, given in Avot de-Rabbi Nathan, version B, chap. 30 (discussed by Lorberbaum, In God’s Image, 173–78), and Lev. Rabbah 34:3, can indicate a difference of opinion between Hillel and R. Akiva on the question of the image of God. In the Lev. Rabbah version, Hillel cites the verse: “A kindly man benefits himself; a cruel man makes trouble for himself ” (Prov. 11:17). This verse can be understood as an argument that Hillel invokes, in this version, to support his view of bathing as an act of kindness to the divine soul that is hosted in the body. This conception is reminiscent of the Stoic worldview; see Baer, “Eschatological Doctrine,” 96–100. Heschel also distinguished between the meaning of creation “in the image of God” for Hillel and for R. Akiva. See Heschel, Heavenly Torah, 261–62. 67 M Sanhedrin 4:5 (trans.: Danby, The Mishnah, 389). 68 This claim is supported by Robinson, “Hebrew Psychology,” 368–69; and by Heschel, Heavenly Torah, 263. 69 Lorberbaum finds some similarity between the parable about coins that the Church Father Athanasius presents to explain the divine presence in Jesus, and the rabbis’ use of this parable in M Sanhedrin and in Mekhilta d’Rabbi Ismael, Baḥodesh 8, ed. Horovitz and Rabin, 233; trans.: Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, 22:62). See Lorberbaum, In God’s Image, 172–73. In my opinion, despite the shared usage of the same parable, the text of M Sanhedrin does not postulate any simple figurative likeness between God



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that “For my sake was the world created” runs counter to common sense and reflects the existential meaning of the interiorization of the notion of creation in the image of God. In addition to the dicta of Hillel, R. Akiva, and R. Meir, the interiorization of the idea of creation in the image of God has a clearly Platonic or Stoic orientation in the late Tannaitic and the Amoraitic literatures:70 Our masters say: Come and see: the Holy One, blessed be He, fills His world, and this soul [nefesh] fills the body; the Holy One, blessed be He, sustains His world, and this soul sustains the body; the Holy One, blessed be He, is One in His world, and the nefesh is one in the body; the Holy One, blessed be He, sleep does not come before Him, and the soul does not sleep; the Holy One, blessed be He, is pure in His world, and this soul is pure in the body; the Holy One, blessed be He, sees and is not seen, and this soul sees and is not seen. The soul, that sees and is not seen, shall come and praise the Holy One, blessed be He, who sees and is not seen.71

The Stoic nature of this passage can be learned from a comparison with the writings of Seneca.72 This teaching emphasizes the godly traits of the and His creatures. According to the parable, humans are special in that each of them is different from his fellow, unlike the coins. We may reasonably suggest that the parable in Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael also does not assume complete similarity between the Creator and His handiwork, which is compared to portraits and images of the king, and to coins struck in his likeness. 70 See, for example, the metaphor of sight and the pupil: Plato, Alcibiades, 133 (trans.: 208–11); Cicero, De Natura Deorum, 1:90. For English translation, see Cicero, De Natura Deorum, trans. H. Rackham, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 268 (London: Heinemann, 1972), 86–89. 71 Deut. Rabbah 2:37. This passage has numerous parallels, with minor differences: BT Berakhot 10a; Lev. Rabbah 4:8, ed. Margulies, 96–97; Midrash Tehillim 103:4, ed. Buber, 433; Tanḥuma, ed. Rabinowitz, Ḥayei Sarah 3, 269. The version in BT Berakhot contains imagery that does not appear in Deut. Rabbah: “Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, feeds the entire world, so too, the soul [neshamah] feeds the entire body. . . . Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, abides in the innermost precincts. so too, the soul abides in the innermost precincts.” The version in Lev. Rabbah contains two additional qualities: “This nefesh survives the body, and the Holy One, blessed be He, survives His world, ‘They shall perish, but You shall endure’ [Ps. 102:27]. The nefesh, which survives the body, shall come and praise the Holy One, who survives His world. . . . This nefesh does not eat in the body, and the Holy One, blessed be He, hunger does not come before Him, as it is written, ‘Were I hungry, I would not tell you’ [Ps. 50:12]. The nefesh, which does not eat in the body, shall come and praise the Holy One, blessed be He, for eating does not come before Him.” 72 Cf. Seneca, Epistulae Morales, trans. Richard M. Gummere, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 75 (London: Heinemann, 1972), epistle 65, 456–59. The parallel was first noted

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human soul, focusing on its spiritual nature, which it contrasts with the bodily world, and it is this spiritual essence that attests to the divine within man. This contrast, with its clear distinction between the spiritual and the physical within man—in the spirit of the Greek world—is somewhat weakened in light of our knowledge of the rabbis’ tendency to describe the bodysoul ties as a complex interdependent relationship. This view is expressed in the parable by R. Ishmael on the lame man and the blind man who guard the garden, which ends as follows: What does the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He restores the soul to the body and judges them together, this is the same as: “He summoned the heavens above, and the earth, for the trial of His people” [Ps. 50:4]: “He summoned the heavens above”—to bring the soul; “and the earth”—to bring the body, for the trial of His people.73

The following passages, which presumably speak only of the Divine Presence and not of man and his soul, have great potential for interiorization, as I will attempt to explain.

by Armand Kaminka, Studies in the Bible, the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature, vol. 2: Studies in the Talmud [Heb] (Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1951), 63; see also Altmann, “Delphic Maxim,” 201. Cf. the Roman Stoic Lucilius Balbus, cited by Cicero: “what can be so obvious and so manifest as that there must exist some power possessing transcendent intelligence by whom these things are ruled? Were it not so, how comes it that the words of Ennius carry conviction to all readers—‘Behold this dazzling vault of heaven, which all mankind as Jove invoke.’ Ay, and not only as Jove but as sovereign of the world, ruling all things with his nod, and as Ennius likewise says—‘father of gods and men,’ a deity omnipresent and omnipotent? If a man doubts this, I really cannot see why he should not also be capable of doubting the existence of the sun; how is the latter fact more evident than the former? Nothing but the presence in our minds of a firmly grasped concept of the deity could account for the stability and permanence of our belief in him, a belief which is only strengthened by the passage of the ages and grows more deeply rooted with each successive generation of mankind” (Cicero, De Natura Deorum, 2:1–2 [trans.: 268:124–27]). The soul reveals within itself, and with its own powers, the presence of God and His omnipotence. As the rabbis express this: “The soul, that sees and is not seen, shall come and praise the Holy One, who sees and is not seen.” 73 Lev. Rabbah 4:5, ed. Margulies, 89–90. See in the continuation of the midrash the parable of R. Hiyya, that divine justice applies only to the soul, since it is in the nature of the body to sin, while the soul is from the upper spheres: “But you are from the upper [spheres], where none sin before Me, therefore I leave the body and sit in judgment with you.”



Part Three: Thinking about the Inner

The Emperor said to R. Gamaliel: “You say that wherever ten [Jews] [are present] the Divine Presence rests. How many Divine Presences are there, then?” He [R. Gamaliel] summoned [the Emperor’s] servant, and struck him on the neck. He asked him: “Why [do you permit] the sun to enter the Emperor’s house?” He [the Emperor] said: “The sun shines upon the whole world!” “Then if the sun, which is but one of the thousand myriad of the servants of the Holy One, blessed be He, is everywhere, how much more so the Presence of the Holy One, blessed be He!”74

The potential for interiorization inherent in this parable is noteworthy. It is brought in Tractate Sanhedrin among a series of questions that pagans asked about the God of Israel, and not in the narrow context of a rabbinic dictum relating to the Divine Presence resting on ten worshipers, as Moore presents it. The counter-question posed by R. Gamaliel in response to the Emperor’s question is: How can the sunlight enter the house of the pagan, even though it is obvious to all that the sun—which is the source of this light—is vastly distant from the place where its effect is felt, that is, inside the house? As Rashi explains, the pagan answers that sunlight is present everywhere, and therefore R. Gamaliel’s response is “how much more so!” Urbach rightly observes that the analogy implies that the Shekhinah is not identical to the light, but it possesses the light’s ability to penetrate, even beyond the walls of the house and through its windows. Not only does the sun parable teach that the sun is one of God’s servants (to emphasize His transcendence), it also graphically illustrates the Godhead’s ability to penetrate what we perceive as walls, like the sunlight. The pagan’s question is not how can the Divine Presence rest among a quorum of worshipers, but whether the fact of the existence of many quorums, with the Divine Presence resting in each of them, means that there are many Divine Presences. The sun parable negates the question by offering a broader answer: the Divine 74 BT Sanhedrin 39a. Abelson cites this parable to indicate that, for the rabbis, the Shekhinah is the Presence of God that is known and tangible everywhere, like the sunlight (Joshua Abelson, The Immanence of God in Rabbinical Literature [New York: Hermon, 1969], 108). Moore stressed that the parable is meant to explain how the specific presence of God in a certain place is possible, that is, when a quorum assembles for prayer (Moore, Judaism, 1:435–36). Urbach adds that this parable about the omnipresence of God-Shekhinah shows that the Shekhinah is neither a separate entity nor light, and that the Shekhinah’s presence in the world does not detract from its transcendence (Urbach, Sages, 1:47–48).

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Presence, like the sun, is capable not only of resting in every quorum of worshipers, it can also rest in the house of each individual, including that of the pagan himself, and is therefore able to also rest in a quorum of people. R. Gamaliel responds to the pagan with a rhetorical question: You ask how the Divine Presence can rest in a quorum? I will show you that it is capable of resting in the house of every person. A proximate midrash is the parable of the sea water in a cave: “Within, it was decked with love” [Cant. 3:10]—R. Yudan said, This is the merit of the Torah. . . . R. Azariah said, in the name of R. Juda in the name of R. Simon: This is the Shekhinah. One Scriptural passage says: “And the priests were not able to remain and perform the service because of the cloud, for the Presence of the Lord filled the House of the Lord” [I Kings 8:11], and another Scriptural passage says: “and the court was filled with the radiance of the Presence of the Lord” [Ezek. 10:4]. How can both Scriptural passages be harmonized? R. Joshua of Sikhnin, in the name of R. Levi: To what was the Tent [of Meeting] similar? To a cave that was next to the sea, the sea surged and flooded the cave; the cave was filled, but the sea lacked nothing. So too, the Tent of Meeting was filled with the brilliance of the Shekhinah, and the world lacked nothing of the Shekhinah.75

This parable, which compares the Tabernacle to a cave, shares a fundamental argument with the preceding midrash: the Divine Presence in the world does not diminish from God’s essence, which is not dependent on the world. What is common, therefore, to these parables and to the isomorphic dictum on the soul and the Holy One, blessed be He, in Tractate Berakhot is the claim that the Divine Presence in man does not detract from God’s essence. One of the apprehensions regarding interiorization orientations is the possibility of reductionism in God’s standing. The importance of these parables lies in their putting this fear to rest. God’s Presence in the world or in the Tabernacle, that is compared to a cave, or in people, who, I maintain, are compared in R. Gamaliel’s parable to houses into which the sunlight penetrates, does not diminish God’s self or independence. These conceptual interiorizations are consistent with the dictum of R. Eleazar: “A person should always consider himself as if the Holy One dwells within him,” that was discussed above in the context of ritual interiorization.76 75 Cant. Rabbah 3:8. 76 See above, chapter one, 129–130 n. 250.



Part Three: Thinking about the Inner

In medieval thought, we can speak of two directions of conceptual developmental of the idea of creation in the image of God. Altmann preferred to distinguish between the Kabbalistic and the philosophical approaches to this question.77 Indeed, a comparison of the writings on this issue by Maimonides and Nahmanides reveals a fundamental difference between them.78 Maimonides’ position is unequivocal and is set forth quite clearly in the beginning of the Guide of the Perplexed: The term “image” [tzelem], on the other hand, is applied to the natural form, I mean to the notion in virtue of which a thing is constituted as a substance and becomes what it is. It is the true reality of the thing in so far as the latter is that particular being. In man that notion is that from which human apprehension derives. It is on account of this intellectual apprehension that it is said of man: “In the image of God created Him” [Gen. 1:27].79

Maimonides’ definition is based on the distinction between to’ar [feature] and tzelem [image]. The former is what the masses attribute to the term tzelem and therefore assumes that God has human form.80 The latter means “form” in the Aristotelian sense, namely, the essence and definition of something. In Hil. Yesodei Torah [Laws of the Fundamentals of the Torah], Maimonides emphasizes this distinction: The superior intelligence in the human soul is the specific form of the mentally normal human being. To this form, the Torah refers in the text “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. I:26). . . . The text, above quoted, does not refer to the visible features—the mouth, nose, cheeks, and other distinguishing bodily marks. These are comprehended in the nomenclature “feature.”81 77 Altmann, “Delphic Maxim,” 209 n. 82. His discussion in ibid., 199–213, of the motif of the soul in the image of God is devoted to the Kabbalistic literature, while his discussion of the microcosm in ibid., 213–22, relates to the philosophical literature. 78 See the expansion of this issue in Yair Lorberbaum, “Imago Dei” [Heb], PhD diss. (Hebrew University, 1997), 269–323. 79 Maimonides, Guide 1:1 (trans.: Moses ben Maimon, The Guide, 22). Cf. Philo, De Opificio Mundi 69–71 (trans.: 226:54–57). 80 See Maimonides, Guide 1:1. 81 Maimonides, Book of Knowledge 4:8, 39a. On Maimonides’s understanding of creation in the image of God, see the extensive discussion: Sara Klein-Braslavy, Maimonides’ Interpretation of the Adam Stories in Genesis [Heb] (Jerusalem: Rubin Mass, 1986), 203– 17; idem, Maimonides’ Interpretation of the Adam Stories in Genesis [Heb] (Jerusalem:

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Nahmanides’ stance is different. He disagrees with the view of the “philosophers” that reflects the position held by Maimonides that the purpose of the material reality is to physically nourish and sustain the body in order to reproduce the species, and that it has no need of the World to Come. Instead, Nahmanides states: “There are great secrets in this form, for the creation in this image was not meaningless, without reason, rather only for a great need and a worthy reason, and his Maker, may He be blessed, desires his existence.”82 Altmann noted the complexity of Kabbalistic texts on this question. On the one hand, some Kabbalistic works definitely tend to combine these two seemingly contradictory conceptions; while on the other hand, some of these writings champion a one-sided approach, one close in spirit to that of Maimonides, which identifies the crux of man with wisdom or the soul.83 For the purposes of a discussion of the medieval development of the conceptual interiorization of the myth of creation in the image of God, we should rather distinguish between the evolutions of the Platonic-Stoic notion of the images of the soul and of God84 and those of the idea of man as microcosm. As Altmann showed, Hebrew manifestations of the Delphic Maxim were influenced by the Muslim traditions which held that their version (which adds to the original beginning of “Know yourself ” the ending “and know God”) originated in ancient Hellenistic traditions. We see from various sources that not every form of self-knowledge must be interpreted as conceptual interiorization. A person’s familiarity with his bodily structure, or even with his psychological functions, could obviously remain within the realm of outer knowledge, which teaches of the world and/or of God. The description of God as reflected in the limbs of a person’s body could also be thought, to a certain degree, to be a type of externalization, as I will illustrate below. Conceptual interiorization could be attributed to those ideas that exceed an external description in Rubin Mass, 1986), 13–22; Warren Zev Harvey, “How to Begin to Study the Guide of the Perplexed, I, 1” [Heb] Daat 21 (1988): 5–23. On the disparity between Maimonides’s interpretation of the image of God and this idea in the Tannaitic literature, see Yair Lorberbaum, “Maimonides on Imago Dei: Philosophy and Law—The Felony of Murder, the Criminal Procedure and Capital Punishment” [Heb], Tarbiz 68 (1999): 533–66. 82 Moses ben Nahman, Torat ha-Adam, in Writings of Our Master Moses ben Nahman, ed. Hayyim Dov Chavel (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1963–1964), vol. 2, Sha‘ar ha-Gemul, 305. 83 Altmann, “Delphic Maxim,” 208–13, with examples of both interpretive directions. 84 Above, 290 (after n. 70).



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attempting to reach the inner essences of human life. It would also be possible to understand outer, and even historical, phenomena as derived from inner human life.

Nefesh, Ruah., and Neshamah: Man’s Inner Essence in Early Kabbalism as the Image of God They said that He, may He be blessed, created man in His image and His likeness, and established him in a supernal form, as is said: “And God created man in His image” [Gen. 1:27]. [Questions] were raised and precise study was made regarding this profound matter of man who is in the image of God: it was said in Sitrei Torah [mysteries of the Torah] that it is the intellective form in man that is called “man,” for the skin, the flesh, and the bones are the clothing of man; they said that it therefore is written: “You clothed me with skin and flesh and wove me of bones and sinews” [Job 10:11]. If the skin and the flesh are clothing, still—who is man, for he is within the clothing, and he is established in three tikkunim [here, the three degrees of nefesh, ruaḥ, and neshamah]. Behold, I reveal to you a hidden, profound, and very great secret: they said there in Sitrei Torah: It is written, “and on top, upon this semblance of a throne, there was the semblance of a human form” [Ezek. 1:26]—what is the semblance of man? . . . The person in this world is not a human being, unless these three things join together to be the form of man, namely, nefesh, ruaḥ, and neshamah.85

R. Moses de Leon’s question regarding the true essence of man is answered with a statement with evident Maimonidean influence: “it is the intellective form in man that is called ‘man.’” This approach also underlies several dicta in the Zohar.86 Despite the Zoharic awareness of the notion of 85 Moses ben Shem Tov de Leon, Shekel ha-Kodesh, ed. Charles Mopsik (Los Angeles: Cherub, 1996), 28. Nefesh means “soul, life force”; ruaḥ is “spirit”; and neshamah means “breath, soul, soul-breath” (Zohar, 1:206a). See also Matt, Zohar, 3:262 n. 26. 86 “Every spirit is called ‘human’; the body of the spirit of the holy side is a garment of the ‘human,’ and so it is written: ‘You clothed me in skin and flesh, wove me of bones and sinews’ (Job 10:11). Flesh is the garment of the ‘human,’ as it is written everywhere: ‘flesh of a human’ (Exodus 30:32)—‘human,’ within, ‘flesh,’ garment of the ‘human,’ its body” (Zohar 1:20b; trans.: Matt, Zohar, 1:156); and similarly, Zohar 1:22b; 2:75b–76a. See also Vital, Sha‘arei Qedushah, part 1, sha‘ar 1, 6: “It is known to the knowledgeable, that the human body is not man; rather, a single garment, in which the intellective soul—which is man himself—is engarbed while he is in this world. After his death, this

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the image of God being reflected in the appearance of the body, the Zohar clearly distinguishes between the two ideas: “. . . but the reason is that the delight of the blessed Holy One focuses only on soul, not on body; for soul resembles the Superior soul, while body is incapable of uniting above— even though the body’s image abides in supernal mystery.”87 Unlike Tikkunei Zohar’s88 finding the human physical appearance to be identical to the godly countenance (except for the distinction that exists only in man) between the male body and the female, this teaching patently separates the idea of the godly soul (that is seen as being of the same essence as the image of God, thus enabling unification after death) from that of the corporeal countenance, that despite it being in the “supernal secret,” can only allude to the godly one, but is not identical to it. This conception continues the interiorization of the image of God myth described above, by equating the intellective element (that the Zohar separates into the different levels of nefesh, ruaḥ, and neshamah) with the supernal, godly soul.89 This is extremely close to the ideas of the medieval Ashkenaz pietists, although they do not appear in the latter’s writings in the direct context of creation in the image of God, but in their portrayal of the Divine Presence beyond and within man: Since the soul receives emanation from the first light, adheres to the Creator, and is called Binah, therefore, the Holy One, blessed be He, is in the soul. This is the meaning of “He is one [ve-hu ve-ehad, literally, ‘in one’]; who can dissuade Him? Whatever He desires, He does” [Job. 23:13]—the interpretation: it should have said “ve-hu ehad, who can dissuade Him.” What is the meaning of “ve-ehad”? Rather, He is soul to [the human] soul; this is the meaning of “for the Lord your God is in your midst, a great and

garment will be removed from him, and he will be clothed in a pure, clean spiritual garb.” 87 Zohar 1:140a (trans.: Matt, Zohar, 2:277). 88 “Come and see: When the Holy One, blessed be He, wished to create man, thus He wished to create him. Like His countenance, without genitalia . . . or differentiation, as it is said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ For all the Sefirot were included in him, with no differentiation or severance, with the male united with the female, for they are brethren” (Tikkunei Zohar 90b, tikkun 56). 89 See also Ibn Ezra’s commentary to Exod. 23:28. Ibn Ezra defines neshamah as wisdom, and sees the nefesh and the ruaḥ as mediating between the neshamah and the body.



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awesome God” [Deut. 7:21]—in your actual midst; and the knowledgeable person will understand.90 This is the meaning of “A king is held captive [asur] in the tresses [barehatim]” [Cant. 7:6]—you already know that the wise soul is a power in the mind, and from there everything spreads, and man comprises all the spiritual things. Consequently, it says “king”—which is repentance—is asur be-rehatim” [here, channeled in the trough]: the place of the mind is compared to [the channeling] trough. . . . For, at any rate, the mind of the son is drawn down from the mind of the Father, and it says “asur” [meaning], as something connected to something.91

The identification of God with the heart and the inner realm, in terms of man’s deepest will, is unique to the Zohar and was highly influential on the interiorizing conceptions of God in the later literature, especially in Hasidic writings. The Zohar says on Exod. 25:2: “Therefore it is written, ‘Ve-yiqhu, Have them purchase, Me an offering.’ “’From every man’—from one who is called ‘man,’ who overpowers his impulse, for whoever overpowers his impulse is called ‘man.’ “’Whose heart impels him.’ What does this mean? That the blessed Holy One delights in him, as is said, ‘To You he said, “My heart”’ (Psalms 27:8); ‘rock of my heart’ (ibid. 73:26); ‘goodhearted’ (Proverbs 15:15); ‘He gladdened his heart’ [Ruth 3:7)—all referring to the blessed Holy One. Here, too, ‘whose heart impels him’—from him ‘you shall take My offering,’ for there it is found and nowhere else. “How do we know that the blessed Holy One delights in him and places His dwelling in him? When we see that this person desires, in joyous aspiration of the heart, to pursue and strive for Him with heart, soul, and will, surely there, we know, dwells Shekhinah.”92

As this exposition has it, the expressions “lev” [heart] and “tov lev” [good heart], that are cited from Numbers, Psalms, Proverbs, and Ruth, “all were said regarding the Holy One, blessed be He.” That is to say, a person’s inner self is reflected by his heart that expresses the desire to act well, to overcome oneself on behalf of another, which is also identified with 90 A Kabbalistic manuscript from the thirteenth or fourteenth century that originated among the Ashkenaz pietists; cited by Scholem, Major Trends, 375 n. 97. 91 Azriel, Perush ha-Aggadot, ed. Tishbi, Berakhot, 5. 92 Zohar 2:128a-b (trans.: Matt, Zohar, 5:200).

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overcoming the self on behalf of God. The very existence of such a will in a person attests to God’s residing within that individual. Good will, that is called lev tov, is depicted in the Zohar as the Divine Presence that dwells within man.

Man as Microcosm The idea to which Nahmanides alludes—and which R. Azriel presents in the wording “and man is composed of all the spiritual things” originates in the formulation “man is a microcosm,” that appears in a number of midrashim.93 This concept is reminiscent of the Hellenistic notion of man as microcosm, as Altmann noted.94 The dictum of R. Yose ha-Galili in Avot de-Rabbi Nathan shows that the notion that “everything that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He created in man” does not necessarily have an aspect of conceptual interiorization. This teaching contains distinctly external analogies between man’s form and various natural phenomena. It appears as the continuation of a teaching that includes the dictum from M Sanhedrin 4:5: “if any man saves alive a single soul Scripture imputes it to him as though he had saved alive a whole world.”95 We may conclude from this that R. Yose’s statement was meant to illustrate the preceding dictum by depicting the creation of man as an analogy for the entire world. Some interiorization potential can be found in the evolution of this midrash in Aggadat Olam Katan that was published by Jellinek: Rav said, A man has two hundred and forty-eight limbs. His heart is equivalent to all of them, as it is said, “but the Lord sees into the heart” [I Sam. 16:7]. Just as a man sees, so too, does the heart see, as it is said, “My heart saw much wisdom and knowledge” [Eccl. 1:16]. Just as a man hears, so too, does the heart hear, as it is said, “Grant then, Your servant an understanding [shome’a, literally, “hearing”] heart” [I Kings 3:9]. . . . Just as a man is good, so too, is the heart good, as it says, “but he that is of a merry heart [both using the word tov] has a continual feast” [Prov. 15:15]. Love is 93 See Tanḥuma, Pekudei 3; Avot de-Rabbi Nathan, version A, chap. 31. 94 Altmann, “Delphic Maxim,” 213–16. 95 The version “if any man saves alive a single soul,” without the usual “from Israel,” is based on Solomon Schechter’s notes to version A, Avot de-Rabbi Nathan, ed. Schechter (Vienna, 1897), 91. Trans.: Danby, p. 388. See Ephraim Elimelech Urbach, “‘Kol ha-Meqayyem Nefesh Ahat. . . .’ Development of the Version, Vicissitudes of Censorship, and Business Manipulations of Printers” [Heb], Tarbiz 40 (1971): 268–84.



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only in the heart, as it is said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart” [Deut. 6:5], and hate is only in the heart, as it is said, “You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart” [Lev. 19:17]. And everything in the world depends on the heart, therefore it is written, “also He has set the world in their heart” [Eccl. 3:11].96

Here we sense the inverse emphases. Man is important, not only because he contains the world and its fullness, but because of the worth of what occurs within his soul. This emphasis is not especially concerned with the question of Creation, it rather reflects an existential aspect of the type I will discuss below. Scheindlin found a possible conceptual interiorization of the microcosm concept in a poem by Judah Halevi: My meditation on Your name aroused me, They set before my face Your acts of love, Revealed to me the soul that You created— Bound to me, yet past my understanding. My heart beheld You and was sure of You, As if I stood myself at Sinai mountain. I sought you in my dreams, Your glory passed Before my face, on clouds descending, landing. My thoughts awakened me to rise from bed, To bless Your glorious name, O Lord, commanding.

Scheindlin analyzes this poem, in light of Ibn Ezra’s commentary to “I praise You, for I am awesomely, wondrously made; Your work is wonderful; I know it very well” (Ps. 139:14), as reflecting the idea of the microcosm and the knowledge of God from the knowledge of man.97 Knowledge of this sort can be a “scientific” knowledge of the world. In the poem, according to Scheindlin, Revelation as a historical event becomes an inner intellective event in which a person who contemplates the connection between body and soul learns about the world as a whole, that, too, is made of such a linkage. Based on this interpretation, Judah Halevi’s poem describes the conceptual interiorization of the Revelation at Sinai. The realization of the knowledge of God based on the idea that “man is a small world” enables 96 Jellinek, Bet ha-Midrasch, 5, Aggadat Olam Katan, 57–59. 97 Scheindlin, Gazelle, 164–70, esp. 164–65.

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the poet to have a personal revelation that parallels the historic Revelation: “And my heart saw You and believes in You, as if standing at Sinai.” Harvey, following Komem, suggested a more mystical interpretation, according to which the poet, aided by his inner eye, sees the divine glory as it was seen at Sinai.98 The simple meaning of what Sefer Yetzirah writes, too, cannot be included in the category of conceptual interiorization, despite the first appearance of the world-year-soul analogy in it (see below); but this, as well, appears in the book in descriptive contexts. The fact that the entire book is formulated as a depiction of the world—and not as wondering about the nature of man99—prevents me from including it in this category, even though the Kabbalists’ interpretations of the book clearly reflect interiorizations. Nor does Sefer ha-Bahir’s portrayal of man as a “microcosm”100 necessarily teach of conceptual interiorization, and its main thrust is descriptive. Scholem’s analysis of the magical implications of the idea of man as microcosm in Kabbalistic writings, too, indicates this notion does not necessarily reflect a conceptual interiorization.101 The Kabbalah of the Gerona circle of R. Isaac the Blind does, however, clearly focus on the internal human significance of the idea. As R. Isaac the Blind writes in his commentary to the third chapter of Sefer Yetzirah: Three matrices: things that emanate, and are emanated and received one from another. But when it arrives at the world of the separate entities, they are only called patrices, from whom are progeny. For at first [they are matrices,] 98 Warren Zev Harvey, “Judah Halevi’s Synesthetic Theory of Prophecy and a Note on the Zohar” [Heb], Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 13 (1996): 152 n. 20. See the discussion of Kuzari 4:3 in chapter six, below. 99 Scholem wrote on Sefer Yetzirah: “The Book Yetsirah describes in broad outlines, but with certain astronomico-astrological details, how the cosmos was built—chiefly from the twenty-two letters” (Scholem, Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, 168). See also Dan, On Sanctity, 234–58. 100 “What are the seven parts of man’s body? It is written (Genesis 9:6), ‘In the form of God, He made man.’ It is also written (Genesis 1:27), ‘In the form of God He made him’—counting all his limbs and parts” (Sefer ha-Bahir, para. 82, ed. Reuven Margolius [Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1994], 36). For English translation, see The Bahir: An Ancient Kabbalistic Text Attributed to Rabbi Nehunah ben HaKana, trans. Aryeh Kaplan (New York: Samuel Weiser, 1979), 30. 101 Gershom Scholem, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, trans. Ralph Manheim (New York: Schocken, 1996), 127–28; idem, “Sitra Ahra: Good and Evil in the Kabbalah,” in Sholem, On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead: Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah, trans. Joachim Neugroschel, ed. Jonathan Chipman (New York: Schocken, 1991), 69.



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for the patrices themselves are so called, like flames from coals. When it arrives at the separate entities it becomes the effect that issues from all the matrices. From all the connections we have spoken of patrices are made, to make connections in the separating of all the things that made progeny. Even though we speak of separate entities, it does not depart from the connected things, for all draws from there. Therefore every thing is sealed with these patrices, and it speaks of how world, year and soul [nefesh] are made of them, and those connections, all of them, are created and emanated from them. Man himself is constructed with letters, and when he was constructed, the supernal breath [ruaḥ elyon] that governs that frame, governs all. The result is that all is connected among supernal beings and among lower beings, and he is of world, year and soul. For all that is in world, is in year, and all that is in world and year, is in soul, and the soul outweighs all. The things separate from each other, for they are essences from within essences. But from the beginning of the separate world, they are perceptible progeny, formal, which have finitude.102

Scholem explains this as follows What is in the world is also in the neshamah. Consequently, when a person brings his neshamah to adhere to the supernal, he elevates the entire creation that is enfolded within him to its roots, that are the divine attributes, and he connects all with all.103

The isomorphism in the notion of “man is a microcosm” is essentially a comparative description that stresses the similarity between two forms. At times it is only externally formal, but when it refers to the similarity between two entities, as between the human soul and God,104 it contains the basis for conceptual interiorization, as in the above commentary by R. Isaac the Blind.

102 Sefer Yetzirah, 14–15; trans.: Mark Brian Sendor, “The Emergence of Provencal Kabbalah: Rabbi Isaac the Blind’s Commentary on Sefer Yezirah,” 2 vols., PhD diss. (Harvard University, 1994), 2:129–34 and 135–37. 103 Gershom Scholem, Beginnings of the Kabbalah (1150–1250) [Heb] (Jerusalem: Schocken, 1948), 114. 104 As portrayed in a teaching in Deut. Rabbah 2:37 (above, n. 71).

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The Zoharic Conception of Soul in the Body as God in the World The perception of the Ᾱtman as conceptual interiorization in the Upanishads, which was discussed in the beginning of this chapter, has conceptual parallels in the Zoharic discussions of the question of what is man. I do not intend to engage in a philological-historical examination of possible spiritual influences of the Indian world on the Zohar. My claim of points of similarity is purely phenomenological. An exploration of the channels of influence is complex and complicated and would exceed the purview of the current work. That said and done, however, placing the Upanishad texts in conjunction with the Zoharic documents, despite their differences in style and literary and conceptual contexts, teaches of a shared principle: man, like the entire world, is composed of outer garb, which is identical to the manifest reality characterized by its particularity, and a concealed, uniform inner essence, that, in actuality, maintains the outer reality. When the human was created, what is written? “You clothed me in skin and flesh” (Job 10:11]). What then is the human if not skin and flesh, and bones and sinews? But surely, the human being is nothing but soul! And these that we have mentioned—skin, flesh, bones, and sinews—are all merely a garment; they are a person’s clothing, not the human. And when this human departs, he is stripped of those garments that he is wearing. The skin in which a person is clothed and all those bones and sinews all inhere in mystery of supernal wisdom, corresponding to the pattern above. Skin, corresponding above, as our Master has taught concerning those curtains, and it is written: “skins” (Exodus 25:5). For the garments above covering the garment are expanse of heaven—outer garment. The curtains are the inner garment—a protective membrane. Bones and sinews are chariots and all those forces stationed within. All of them are garments for what is within: mystery of adam, human, who is innermost. So, too, mystery below. The human is the innermost within, his garments corresponding to what is above. Bones and sinews correspond, as we have sad, to those chariots and camps. Flesh covers those camps and chariots, standing outside; this is the mystery conveyed to the Other Side. Skin, covering all, corresponds to those heavens covering all. All of them, garments clothing the innermost within, mystery of human. All of a mystery, below corresponding above.



Part Three: Thinking about the Inner

So, “Elohim created the human in His image, in the image of Elohim He created him” (Genesis 1:27)—twice here ‘Elohim,’ one pertaining to male and one pertaining to female. Mystery of human below inheres entirely in mystery above In the heaven covering all, impressions were made, thereby showing and revealing—through those inlaid impressions—concealed matters and secrets. Those are impressions of stars and constellations inlaid in this heaven covering outside. Similarly, skin—external covering of a person— is a heaven covering all, containing impressions and traces. Those are stars and constellations of his skin, a covering heaven, through which concealed matters and secrets are shown and revealed—stars and constellations eyed by the wise of heart, gazing upon them to know. Gazing at the face, in the mysteries we have mentioned, when it shines, free of anger. This is the mystery of “the astrologers, the stargazers” (Isaiah 47:13).105

The Zohar assumes that man’s essence is his spiritual aspect. The soul within him is perceived as being of an inner nature, unlike the body, which is seen as outer.106 The understanding, however, of the human essence as spiritual and the human body as a vessel, matching the perception of the Sefirot as vessels and Ein-Sof as essence, does not assume differentiation between the body and the soul during the course of life itself. The inner spiritual element leaves its impression in the corporeal element, and these impressions may be identified and distinguished by the observer who is capable of doing so with his wisdom. Not only does the theosophic teaching 105 Zohar 2:75b-76a (trans.: Matt, Zohar, 4:409–10). 106 A parallel to these discussions in the Zohar appears in the beginning of R. Moses Shem Tov de Leon’s Sefer ha-Mishkal (including most of the material from his Sefer ha-Nefesh ha-Ḥakhamah): “Who is called man is to be studied and examined, whether this is body or form. For if you were to say that the body, that comes from a putrid drop [see M Avot 3:1], flesh full of worm and maggot, is in the image of God—Heaven forbid and forfend! Let this not enter the mind of any wise man. They said, in the secrets of the Torah [that is, the Kabbalistic literature], it is written, ‘You clothed me with skin and flesh and wove me of bones and sinews’ [Job 10:11]—if skin and flesh is clothing, the matter is [variant: study] well, Who is man? For it is the inner that is called by this name, which is primary; while the skin and flesh is the clothing and covering that is on man. For the inner is called man, and the body is the clothing that covers [ha-sakhukh] it. They said, it was said on this matter: ‘It must not be poured [yisakh] on the flesh of man’ [Exod. 30:32]—certainly not on the flesh, for the body is the flesh, and man is the inner, upon the model of God” (Sefer ha-Mishkal, in J. H. A. Wijnhoven, “Sefer ha-Mishkal: Text and Study,” PhD diss., [Brandeis University, 1964], 44).

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of essence and vessels (that is extensively discussed by Kabbalistic literature)107 parallel the Kabbalistic teaching of man, we can reasonably speak of the possibility that the former was fashioned in the wake of the latter. The imagery of the Sefirot as a receptacle for the divine essence is based on the perception of the human body as a receptacle for the divine soul. R. Moses de Leon states explicitly in Sefer ha-Mishkal For the craftsman needs vessels, and the vessels need the craftsman, to bring the vessel to actualization and to perform its [necessary] task. Likewise, the soul needs to show its action, and to be garbed in the body, and perform in it the activity of this world. (Accordingly, the soul is an excellent example of what the Rabbis wrote on the verse “Bless the Lord, O my soul” [Ps. 103:1]— just as the Holy One, blessed be He, sees and is not seen, so too, the soul sees and is not seen; just as the Holy One, blessed be He, is holy, so too, it is holy; just as the Holy One, blessed be He, feeds the world, so too, the soul feeds the entire body), as the Rabbis said [BT Berakhot 10a]. . . . All this teaches that He made the form in the image of God. . . . You should know and understand that the secret of the supernal soul is the model of the Creator, as the model of the son is from the father, for it is his actual structure. Thus, the supernal soul is a structure upon the model of the Creator, which is the image of God—an image upon the model of the Creator, for the body is not in the image of the Creator, may He be blessed.108

The vessel, that is, the body, through which the divine soul acts in the world, performs its task as a receptacle that contains the soul. R. Asher ben David lucidly portrays the parallelism between the activity of the spirit, by means of the Sefirot and its activity in man: Every operation performed by the median line, which is the attribute of mercy, operates by the inner force which acts in it . . . and it is as a vessel 107 On the issue of essence and vessels, see Cordovero, Pardes Rimmonim, part 1, sha‘ar 4: Sha‘ar Atzmut ve-Kelim; Ben Shlomo, Mystical Theology, 100–169. On the significance of the conception of the outer reality as clothing for the inner godliness, a notion that negates the separate meaning of the world, and not the world itself, see Margolin, Human Temple, 262–63. 108 Sefer ha-Mishkal, 45. In one of the last sections of Sefer ha-Nefesh ha-Ḥakhamah that are not included in Sefer ha-Mishkal, Moses de Leon states: “What was said that man is a small world means that, just as the Holy One, blessed be He, fills the whole world and by His spirit maintains the worlds, the supernal world and the earthly world, so too, man’s soul maintains the body, and leads it to wherever it wishes” (Sefer ha-Nefesh ha-Ḥakhamah, para. 55).



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to the spirit . . . and the prophet is in its image, a vessel to the divine spirit which is in him when the speech is with him, even despite his will. . . . The spirit speaks in him and the prophet is as its vessel, how much more so that this median line which is a vessel to the inner spirit which breaks out in it.109

The integration of body and soul, in the Zoharic perception, is obviously not monist; nor, however, does it reflect simple dualism.110 It assumes the distinct existence of the spiritual world, that is of greater worth than that of the physical world which is dependent on it. This conception is nevertheless aware of the profound connection between these two planes, that enables the knowledgeable to see how the physical body reflects man’s inner spiritual essence, which is primal in man. This notion, that the Zohar (2:76a) presents at the end of the discussion on physiognomy and before the beginning of its discussion of chirology, is a tour de force that reveals the ideational foundation on which these teachings are based. This is the meaning of creation in the image of God: just as the physical world is garb for the godly essence within, so too, the human body was created as the clothing for its inner-spiritual contents, for man’s inner self.

From the Idea of Man = Microcosm to the Psychologization of the Sefirot R. Abraham Abulafia’s writings are marked by his significant innovation in the perception of man as microcosm. In his letter “Ve-Zot le-Yehudah,” he states outright that the Sefirot are the powers within man, unlike the theosophic Kabbalistic position in his time, which places man in the image of the Sefirot:111 “For the last complex creature is man, who includes all the Sefirot, whose intellect is the Active Intellect. When you release him from 109 Asher ben David, Perush Shem ha-Meforash, in The Kabbalah of R. Asher ben David, ed. Rachel Elior (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1980), 20, ll. 16–29. English translation in Idel, New Perspectives, 142. 110 On the various positions concerning the body-soul relationship, see Keith Campbell, Body and Mind (London: Macmillan, 1971); Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Body and Mind: The Psycho-Physical Problem [Heb] (Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defense, 1983), and their respective bibliographies. 111 See Tishby, Wisdom, 2:682–84. This assertion should not be accepted unreservedly, as there exist some exceptions in the theosophic Kabbalah, such as R. Ezra’s statement: “Know that, just as He contains ten things, so too man. This is the greatness of man’s power, in accordance with his intent and knowledge, to draw down from the Ayin of His thought” (Ezra, Perush ha-Aggadot, Likkutei Shikhehah u-Fe‘ah, fol. 16b).

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his [supernal] connections, you will find in him the unification which is unique, and even the primary emanation, that is thought.”112 He precedes this with an explanation of the difference between the meaning of the Sefirot for “the masters of the Sefirot” (theosophic Kabbalists) and their meaning in his teaching: The masters of the Sefirot, will give them names, will say that the name of the first Sefirah is “Thought,” will add to it a name, to explain it, and will call it Keter Elyon, as a crown [keter] is placed on the heads of kings. . . . Thus he will do for each Sefirah of the ten Sefirot belimah [i.e., Sefirot without being]. The master of the [supernal] names has a [completely] different intent, very greatly superior to this, which is not [the intent of the masters of the Sefirot]. The profundity of this way of names is a profundity to which no profundities of human thought are more excellent. It alone joins human thought with the godly, in accordance with the human capacity, and in accordance with what is imprinted in man. It is known that man’s thought is the cause of his Ḥokhmah, his Ḥokhmah is the cause of his Binah, his Binah is the cause of his Ḥesed, and his Ḥesed is the cause of his fear of his Maker. His fear is the cause of his Tiferet, his Tiferet is the cause of his Nitzahon, his Nitzahon is the cause of his Hod, and his Hod is the cause of his self [i.e., Yesod], which is called “Groom,” his self is the cause of his Malkhut, which is called “His Bride.”113

Idel writes that just as the Sefirot until Yesod and Malkhut refer in this passage to human activity, the portrayal of the last two Sefirot as “Groom” and “Bride” is not to be understood as a depiction of activity within the Godhead, but as an allusion to the intellective relationship between man and God. The intellect that acts in the cosmos and the intellect that acts within man are presented here as groom and bride, the Sefirot of Yesod and Malkhut. Idel based his interpretation on what Abulafia writes in his book Or ha-Sekhel on “the combination of intellective godly love with intellective human love.”114 What Abulafia writes in other places, including the direct identification of the tenth Sefirah (Malkhut) with the Active Intellect, support this interpretation from another perspective:

112 Adolph Jellinek, Ginzei Ḥokhmat ha-Kabbalah (Auswahl kabbalistischer Mystik) (Leipzig, 1853), 20. 113 Ibid., 16–17. The version cited here is based on Idel’s emendation, following MS. New York, JTS 1887; see Idel, New Perspectives, 147. 114 Idel, New Perspectives, 348 n. 315, 349 n. 321.



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Consequently, one Sefirah is called the Active Intellect, which is the sar [guardian angel] of the world, who is the world for you, and is called the Life of the worlds.115 The Active Intellect in our world, this is the intellect that is the smallest among them, as is attested by the small [letter] yud. It is the tenth degree, with the attribute that is called the tenth attribute, and its name is Malkhut. It is truly the last Sefirah. All of its eternal consequences are subsumed under its reality; they are its details, and it is their cause, which is called the form of the human intellect, that is to say, the form of the intellective soul.116

The identification of the Active Intellect, that Abulafia also calls ruaḥ ha-kodesh [the spirit of divine inspiration], with the Sefirah of Malkhut117 gives this Sefirah clearly intellective content. This conception, that draws direct parallels between the Sefirot and man, and therefore highlights their human, psychological character, is formulated as follows in Sefer ha-Temunah: The Sefirot are the image of man, for man is a microcosm, as “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” [Gen. 1:26], they have seven forms. And the soul within the body, and the hidden light which is in his head. For in him is the secret of the small image [of God], as is written: “I would behold God while still in my flesh” [Job 19:26], and the secret of the supernal image [of God], for the Sabbaths and the attributes that are in the Sefirot are to connect the small tent with the great one, and all for man’s sake, as “you shall count off seven weeks [shabbatot]. They must be complete” [Lev. 23:15].118

The conceptual interiorization in the psychologization of the Sefirot, as in the writings of Abraham Abulafia, fundamentally differs from the modern occupation with psychological aspects of the Sefirotic world.119 115 Otzar Eden Ganuz, part 1, para. 3 (MS. Oxford 1580, fol. 72a). 116 Sefer ha-Ḥeshek, part 1, para. 3 (MS. New York, JTS 1801, fol. 17a). 117 According to Idel, “Abulafia accepted the identification of the Active Intellect with ruaḥ ha-kodesh, the faithful spirit, and the kingdom of heaven.” See Moshe Idel, “Abraham Abulafia’s Work and Doctrine” [Heb]. PhD diss. (Hebrew University, 1976), 88, and his reference to Sefer Sitrei Torah, MS. Paris 774, fol. 129b. 118 Sefer ha-Temunah 64, fol. 25a–b. 119 The first attempt at a Jungian psychological explanation of the teaching of the Sefirot was published in 1952 by Siegmund Hurwitz; see Siegmund Hurwitz, Archetypische Motive in der Chassidischen Mystik (Zurich: Rascher, 1952). Werblowsky’s lecture at the conference of the International Association for Analytical Psychologists in London

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Psychological analysis of the teaching of the Sefirot assumes that this teaching is an unconscious projection of the psychological life of Kabbalists onto the divine world.120 Theosophic Kabbalists could not conceive of the possibility of such a projection.121 For them, the conscious connection between the human world and that of the Sefirot is expressed in the idea of man as microcosm. Abulafia’s differing conception, which reached its peak in Hasidism, has the “ecstatic Kabbalist” contemplating the Sefirotic teaching with reservations,122 and he is therefore capable of negating this unconscious projection by the deliberate identification of the Sefirot with his inner forces. We may assume that Abulafia’s affinity with Maimonides and the was published in 1956; see R. J. Zwi Werblowsky, “Some Psychological Aspects of Kabbalah,” Harvest 3 (1956): 1–20. These two articles were the beginning of a process, marked by the psychological analysis of Kabbalistic teachings, that has intensified in recent years; see, for example, Micha Ankori, “This Infinite Forest”: A Comparative Study in Analytical Psychology and Jewish Mysticism [Heb] (Ramat Hasharon: Gabal, 1989). I distinguish between the psychological analysis of Kabbalistic teachings, based on unintentional consequences of psychological life on the world of the Godhead, and, on the psychological analysis of Hasidic teachings that are directly concerned with psychological matters; see, for example, Micha Ankori, The Heart and the Spring: A Comparative Study in Hassidis and Depth Psychology [Heb] (Tel Aviv: Ramot, 1991). For a different sort of psychological and sociological discussion of Kabbalistic and Hasidic teachings, see Mordechai Rotenberg, Dialogue with Deviance: The Hasidic Ethic and the Theory of Social Contradiction (Philadelphia: Ishi, 1983); idem, PaRDeS Hanefesh: The Psycho-Therapeutic Bridge between the Rational and the Mystical [Heb] (Jerusalem: Akademon, 1996); S. Giora Shoham, The Bridge to Nothingness: Gnosis, Kabala, Existentialism, and the Transcendental Predicament of Man (Rutherford: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994). This research usually includes a psychological and sociological analysis and is closer to the direction taken by the psychoanalyst Erich Neumann. Beyond his psychoanalytical analysis of mystical life, Neumann sought to change the modern man’s spiritual world by means of a psychological study of mystical materials. See, for example, his works: Das Bild des Menschen in Krise und Erneuerung (Zurich: Rhein-Verlag, 1960); Depth Psychology and a New Ethic, trans. Eugene Rolfe (New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1969); “Mystical Man,” in The Mystic Vision: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, ed. Joseph Campbell, trans. Ralph Manheim (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), 375–415. This orientation is fundamentally similar to Eliade’s treatment of the materials he cites, for example, in The Myth of the Eternal Return: Cosmos and History, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005); and The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, trans. William R. Trask (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1987). 120 Werblowsky, “Psychological Aspects,” 18. See also his analysis in ibid., 11 ff. 121 Here we see Scholem’s objection to a psychological analysis of the Kabbalah, despite his active participation in the Eranos meetings organized in Ascona by Jung’s disciple Olga Frobe-Kapteyn, where Jung was always present. (See Werblowsky’s apology, “Psychological Aspects,” 1.) 122 See Idel, Ecstatic Kabbalah, 1–3; idem, New Perspectives, 348 n. 313.



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latter’s Guide of the Perplexed underlie his objection to the notion of man as microcosm. which he replaced with the perception of the Sefirot as forces within man. Abulafia’s preference for the human meaning of the Sefirot was not necessarily a consequence of the psychological interiorization of the divine world in his Kabbalistic worldview. It is rather an expression of the shift in spiritual focus from the attempt to comprehend God to man’s quest to understand himself and his potential for direct communion with Him. The writings of Kabbalists who fell under the sway of the psychologization of the Sefirot, such as R. Moses Cordovero (see below), show great concern about the materialization of the Sefirot. The attempt to combine the mental projection onto the divine world with the direct psychological sense of the Sefirotic realm is liable to lead the Kabbalist to the personification of the divine world, to the extent of overturning the divine meaning of the Sefirot.123 The tendency to conceptually internalize the Sefirot, which is expressed in an awareness of their human, psychological essence, intensified among the Safed Kabbalists. Cordovero’s writings seek to combine various Kabbalistic ideas with the question of the nature of the soul, while emphasizing the human meanings of the notion of man as microcosm: 123 R. Moses Cordovero, in Pardes Rimmonim, part 1, sha‘ar 4: Sha‘ar Atzmut ve-Kelim, chap. 6, fol. 19b, interprets Elijah’s message to R. Shimon bar Yohai (Tikkunei Zohar, introduction, fol. 15) as follows (English translation based on Cordovero, Pardes Rimmonim, vol. 1, trans. Elyakim Getz [Providence: Providence University, 2007], 182–83): “‘[Above and below] are recognized’—through creation in which there are many activities, and upper things are revealed, for from the low ones we recognize the higher ones, as it is said, “From my body I see God” [Job 19:26]; through them man knows God. After understanding the higher ones from the low ones, man goes back from above to below in order to recognize the greatness of the low ones, which depend on the higher ones. The order of grasping the unknown goes from the latter to the former [min ha-meu’har el ha-qodem], and then from the former to the latter [min ha-qodem el ha-meu’har]. He first emanated Emanation inside, which was His substance. After Emanation came Creation, then Formation and Action, all this to make known His greatness and His existence in the world. From Action we understand Formation, from Formation we understand and rise to Creation, from Creation we understand and rise to Emanation. . . . All this is true of what is emanated, created, formed, and done, but there is no grasping whatsoever of His essence. We can only understand that everything depends on Him like an amulet hanging on the arm. This is the meaning of “No one knows You”—no one can grasp His elevated state at all. We can only know that He is the master of all things, that from Him are channeled good will and love—not by necessity but altruistically, from cause to effect—and that He is the First Cause. This is the meaning of “You are recognized as the Master of all”— for the grasping of the divinity by the human mind is only possible through the chain of the worlds, from cause to effect, with Him being the First Cause.

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We have another way in this (in contrast to Rabbi [Joseph] Alcastil, who responded to Rabbi Judah Hayyat) that each and every soul includes the ten. . . . Since a person, by his proper deeds, intensifies one of the attributes to act, and all the other attributes will be engarbed in the matter of that attribute, by inductive power, as we interpreted in Sha‘ar Mahut ve-Hanhagah. . . . [T]his question can be resolved by what we explained, for man can increase within his soul whatever part he so wishes, in accordance with his actions. Now, the Patriarchs wished to adhere only to a high place, and they increased in their soul: Abraham, the part of Ḥesed, Isaac, the part of Gevurah, and so forth, and similarly for all people. We already explained this at length in Sh’ar haKinuim, chapter 4, with the help of Heaven.124

Cordovero’s explanation of the idea of the Sefirot within man realizes the potential for interiorization within the teaching of the Sefirot itself. He completely parallels the Sefirot with human traits: each Sefirah matches a human quality. For example, a person who enhances the performing of kindnesses in his lifetime intensifies the ḥesed within himself, and thereby strengthens the Sefirah of Ḥesed.125 The Sefirot are also the psychological map of a person’s soul, “since each soul includes the ten.” He then writes: The matter is for the body to resemble the spiritual. Consequently, it is necessary that even if this is spiritual, it is to adhere to the material, out of his great desire for Him. The reason is that the lower [realms] are the dwelling of the upper [realms]. And just as the effect desires to ascend to its cause, so too, the cause desires that its effect be close to it. And just as the effect desires its cause, so too, the cause desires that its effect will draw close to it. These matters are inherently necessary, for thus is the connection of the worlds with their being the multijointed lamp. . . . And similarly regarding the soul, for it comes down from the cause to the effect, by the mentioned degrees, as is explained in the commentary. And this is certainly a redoubled boon, that as we alluded in this Gate and in the preceding Gates regarding the soul, so too, the body, that is its chariot that the Holy One, blessed be He, created for it, it [= the body] resembles it [= the soul] in every respect . . . 124 Cordovero, Pardes Rimmonim, part 2, sha‘ar 31: Sha‘ar ha-Neshamah, chap. 1, fol. 72a. 125 “For they are parts within Binah, for Binah contains the ten [Sefirot]. . . . By force of the reality being included in it, when the soul is drawn down, it includes the ten together, and all are bound within it. Afterwards, by his actions he increases in his soul . . . part. The principle is that the merciful one [ha-ḥasid] [increases] Ḥesed, the mighty one [ha-gibbor] who conquers his inclination [increases] Gevurah” (Tikkunei Zohar . . . Or Yakar, Bava Kamma, 1:27; cited by Sack, Cordovero, 207; see also Sack’s explanation).



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for the human body, although it is foul material, contains all the upper and lower [spheres].126

The spiritualization of the human body is effected by the performance of the commandments, by means of the psychological parallelism between the Sefirotic world and man’s psyche. The adherence of the different traits of the soul, which are present in the body’s limbs, is as the attraction of the deed to its cause. The attraction of the human to the godly is not only a human need, but a divine one as well, following the Zoharic conception of the interdependence of the upper and lower arousals. R. Yehudah opened: “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me” (Song of Songs 7:11). They have already established that through an arousal below arises an arousal above, for nothing arouses above until something arouses below. Blessings from above manifest only at a site of substance, not emptiness.127 Cordovero learned from the Zoharic idea that “through an arousal below arises an arousal above” that “the existence of all emanation is emanated only for the needs of the lower ones.” His comparing the godly world to a nursing mother who wants to nurse128 highlights the spiritual essence common to the godly world and to man. This, in turn, provides the

126 Cordovero, Pardes Rimmonim, part 2, sha‘ar 31: Sha‘ar ha-Neshamah, chap. 8, fol. 75b– 76a. See Luzzatto, Sefer ha-Kelalim, 339, para. 2: “There is another matter relating to them, namely, the Sefirot contain what will be the root of man’s soul, and what will be the root of the body in him, for the image of man in its entirely is the connection of body and soul together. Even inanimate objects contain an aspect of the soul, as it were, and there is some inner power that maintains their form.” 127 Zohar 1:88a (trans.: Matt, Zohar, 2:61). 128 “This idea recurs many times in the Zohar, as in ‘The Divine Presence is below for a higher purpose.’ Its meaning is that the whole of emanation only takes place for the sake of the lower ones, as explained in the sha‘ar of Ta‘am ha-Atzilut [the Gate of the Cause for Emanation]. And since its principle starts below—after the lower ones are worthy of the blessing that will rest on them—the blessing and plentitude rest on the higher ones. But when the blessing does not rest among the lower ones because of their evil disposition, the blessing does not rest on the higher ones either. Therefore, ‘The Divine Presence is below’ means that there is a dwelling for the Divine Presence below, in the lower world. ‘For a higher purpose’—it is needed for the higher emanation above it. Here is a parable: When a mother nurses her living child and he is disposed to nurse, the milk in her breasts increases. But if she does not have a baby to nurse and rain plentitude on him, milk is lacking in her breasts” (Cordovero, Pardes Rimmonim, part 1, sha‘ar 8: Mahut ve-Hanhagah, chap. 20, fol. 51a; translation partly based on trans. Getz, Pardes Rimmonim, 8:6–26, 123–24).

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conceptual basis for the interiorization of Kabbalistic ideas in general, and especially, the matching of the Sefirot with the traits of man’s psyche. Several passages in the writings of R. Eleazar Azikri, Cordovero’s student, reflect the notion of man as a chariot, or a dwelling place, for the Godhead: How worthy is a man to be holy in his 248 limbs, his heart, and his soul, since he is a temple for the holy King, as it is written, “The Holy One in your midst,” it is written, “the Temple of the Lord are these” [Jer. 7:4], and it is written, “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy” [Lev. 19:2]. That is, and I dwell in your midst, as it is written, “I will establish My abode in your midst” [Lev. 26:11].129 Man is the Throne of Glory, the four basic elements are the four pillars of the Throne; the nefesh, ruaḥ, neshamah are the dwelling-place of God; “Let the waters bring forth” [Gen. 1:20], “and the spirit of God sweeping over the water” [Gen. 1:2], as is taught in the Zohar [2:24a]: “Two hearts, to the right of the Throne and to its left, and the intellect adjoining.” This is what is said, “The Patriarchs are the Merkabah” [Gen. Rabbah 47:6].130 The main dwelling of the Shekhinah is in the heart of Israel, as it is said, “that I may dwell among them” [Exod. 25:8].131

Pachter maintains that these passages are not to be understood as depicting man as the inherent Throne of Glory and as the dwelling of God. In Pachter’s reading, the Patriarchs realized this possibility, and, under certain conditions (which Azikri describes as “conditions of servitude”), man can do so again.132 This explanation, that is meant to blur the meaning of Azikri’s conceptual interiorization, turning it into a wish for the actualization of a potential of which only exemplary individuals are capable, is inconsistent with what Azikri states explicitly in the same manuscript: “More than all that you guard, guard your mind [libkha, literally, ‘heart’]” [Prov. 4:23]—the meaning: that the heart is the source of life . . . and one 129 Milei de-Shemaya, ed. Pachter, para. 87. 130 Ibid., para. 39. 131 Ibid., para. 81; see also para. 282. Cf. Sefer Ḥaredim, chap. 7, fol. 14; Mitzvot Aseh me-Divrei Kabbalah u-me-Divrei Soferim ha-Teluyot ba-Lev, chap. 1, para. 31, fol. 44b (see Milei de-Shemaya, ed. Pachter, 107 n. 20). 132 Milei de-Shemaya, ed. Pachter, introduction, 80.



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who sinned and followed his [evil] urge and his heart suffers pangs [of conscience], when he returns to the Lord with all his might and submits, that husk will be shattered, and this is as it is written, “True sacrifice to God is a contrite [nishberah, literally, ‘broken’] spirit” [Ps. 51:19]. Then the river of each limb, that until then had been laid waste and dried up, will return to its former strength. Know that when the husk is completely shattered, then the heart will adhere to its Creator, for it was for this that it was created.133

The divine service of the pietist, by means of servitude, silence, and abstinence, which, as Pachter showed, is characteristic of Azikri,134 consists mainly of the rectification of the primal state that was spoiled by man. Repentance restores to its former glory the limb that had dried up by being severed from its spiritual source due to sin and the temptation of the Evil Urge. The Kabbalistic conception of the heart [= the nefesh] and the head [= the neshamah] as the dwelling-place of God, or in greater detail, of the Holy One, blessed be He, and the Shekhinah, is cardinal, and is not to be interpreted as alluding to a potential difficult to realize. The necessity to devote tireless efforts to shatter the husk is not a condition but rather a rectification, that is meant to renew the essential connection that has faded, and almost been severed, between man and the godly essence within.

The Conceptual Interiorization at the Basis of Zoharic Theurgy135 Some of the passages in the Zohar that discuss the reasons for the commandments clearly contain elements of conceptual interiorization. This is especially evident in the manner in which the Zohar presents the dependence of the upper arousal on the lower, in the recitation of the Haggadah during the Passover Seder: After this it is one’s duty to narrate the glory of the Exodus from Egypt, for one is obliged to praise this event continually. We have taught that every man who talks of the Exodus from Egypt and rejoices fully in its narration will eventually rejoice in the Shekhinah in the world to come, and this is the greatest joy of all. This is the man who rejoices in his master, and the Holy One, blessed be He, takes delight in the narration. 133 Ibid., para. 232; see Pachter’s references, 151. 134 Ibid., introduction, 81–86. 135 On the theurgic Kabbalah and its sources, see Idel, New Perspectives, 156–99; Mopsik, Les grands textes.

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It is at this time that the Holy One, blessed be He, gathers His household together and says to them: Come and listen to the recital of My praises, which My children utter as they rejoice in the redemption that I have performed. They all assemble and come to join Israel, and they listen to the praises that they recite as they delight in the joy of the redemption that their Master has performed. They [the divine household] come and give thanks to the Holy One, blessed be He, for all the miracles and the manifestations of His power, and praise Him for the holy people that He has on the earth, who take delight in the joy of the redemption that their Master has performed. Then He gains additional strength and power in the world above, and by this narration Israel give strength to their Master, just as a king increases in power and might when [his subjects] praise his might and give thanks to him. And all fear Him and His glory is exalted on high. Therefore one must praise him by reciting this story, as we have explained.136

The conceptual background for this teaching appears in the midrash: “From before Thy people, whom Thou didst redeem to Thee out of Egypt”— [II Sam. 7.23] . . . —R. Akiba says: Were it not expressly written in Scripture, it would be impossible to say it. Israel said to God: Thou hadst redeemed Thyself, as though one could conceive such a thing. Likewise you find that whithersoever Israel was exiled, the Shekinah, as it were, went into exile with them. When they went into exile to Egypt, the Shekinah went into exile with them, as it is said: “I exiled Myself unto the house of thy fathers when they were in Egypt” (I Sam. 2.27). When they were exiled to Babylon, the Shekinah went into exile with them. . . . And when they return in the future, the Shekinah, as it were, will return with them.137

What R. Akiva barely dares to utter: “Israel said to God: Thou hadst redeemed Thyself,” becomes, in the Zohar, a recurring statement that is not to be doubted. For the Zohar, this is the heart of the Haggadah narrative. In this Zoharic teaching, the redemption from Egypt is the redemption of the Holy One, blessed be He. The central question that arises here is: why is the redemption of Israel from Egypt considered to be the very redemption of the Godhead? The midrash of R. Akiva examines the idea from a collective perspective, which identifies the Jewish people with its God by means of the 136 Zohar 2:40b-41a (trans.: Tishby, Wisdom, 3:1316–17). 137 Mekhilta d’Rabbi Ismael, ed. Horovitz and Rabin, pisha 14, 51–52 (trans.: Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, 1:114–15). See Urbach, Sages, 2:705–706 n. 62; 706 n. 70.



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idea that the Divine Presence rests among the people. The general context of the midrash is the question of whether or not God is present among the people after the destruction of the Temple and the Exile.138 The direct continuation of the dictum in the Zohar clearly shows that, in this context, it perceived man as an individuum. This teaching can be understood as an example of conceptual interiorization, by means of the Zoharic dicta that explicitly stress the godly dimension in man, by their identification of the divine with the human soul.139 When the people of Israel are redeemed, the godly within them is similarly redeemed. In the continuation of the Zoharic passage: It is obligatory to speak continually in this way before the Holy One, blessed be He, and to narrate publicly every miracle that He has performed. You might object and ask why this should be obligatory, for does not the Holy One, blessed be He, know everything, all that has been and all that will be? Why then need we declare before Him what He has done, since He knows it already? The answer is that we do indeed have to narrate the miracles and speak in His presence of all that He has done, because these words ascend, and the celestial household who have all gathered together take note of them, and they all praise the Holy One, blessed be He, and His glory is exalted over them, both above and below. It is the same with the man who declares and recounts in detail all the sins that he has committed. You might wonder whether this is really necessary. But the prosecutor is always present before the Holy One, blessed be He, in order to recount the sins of mankind, and to demand that justice be meted out to them. When a man confesses every one of his own sins first, he deprives the prosecutor of his opportunity and he cannot demand that the man be punished, for [the prosecutor] first makes a general demand for punishment and then begins to make his accusations, saying: So-andso has done such-and-such. Therefore, a man should confess his own sins first. When the prosecutor sees this, he will not be able to say anything against him, and then he will leave him altogether. If he turns in contrition and repents, well and good. If not, the prosecutor will reappear and say: 138 In light of Lorberbaum’s claim regarding R. Akiva’s iconic conception (see Lorberbaum, “Imago Dei”), we might also impart personal meaning to this Tanna’s teaching, but at any rate, the general context of the dictum is historically specific, as Urbach maintains: Sages, 2:705–706 n. 62; 706 n. 70. 139 See Tishby, Wisdom, 2:677–86, 692–722; and the sources in Zohar Ḥadash, Genesis, 18a–19b; Zohar 2:13a–b; 2:219b–220a; 3:61a–b.

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So-and-so came before You impudently, and he despises his Master; his sins are such-and-such. One must therefore take great care of these things, and appear always as a faithful servant before the Holy One, blessed be He.140

The Zohar relates to the individual, taking an example from the realm of individual repentance. A single person’s confession does not reveal to the Holy One, blessed be He, secrets or unknown sins, and its significance is presumably for the sinner himself. The analogy raised by the Zohar, however, indicates that from the moment that a person confesses and bears responsibility for his actions, he negates the destructive activity of the Accuser, of the evil depicted here in light of the description of the Adversary at the beginning of the book of Job. Through his confession, the sinner acknowledges his guilt and therefore in good time weakens the power of evil-the Accuser and leaves the latter with no pretext to launch his attack. Accusation weakens the divine forces, while self-confession acts to counter this: it rectifies and strengthens these forces. Scholem argues that, in the Zohar, the idea of the arousal below creating the arousal above means “the Godhead being able to act below only when its powers are aroused and activated by the stimulus of human actions.”141 Based on the above passages from the Zohar, it seems that we can be more precise and argue that they imply that man is capable of enhancing the power of the Godhead for “the sake of the Above.” Just as the confession— which is primarily an inner human act—radiates to the Godhead and actualizes it, so too, the paean to the Exodus speaks of a double miracle. In the redemption of Israel, the divine within them is redeemed as well. Israel’s liberation from the impurity of Egypt is also the redemption of the divine from the forces of evil.142 In this teaching, the Zohar does not relate to Israel only as God’s people, but as a congregation of individuals each of whom is at least potentially capable of redeeming God Himself, taking into account the identity between the godly within him and the godly beyond him. In the retelling of the Exodus on Passover night, the Israelites rejoice in their redemption because the God within them is redeemed with them. In this

140 Zohar 2:40b–41a (trans.: Tishby, Wisdom, 3:1317). 141 Gershom Sholem, On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead: Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah, trans. Joachim Neugroschel, ed. Jonathan Chipman (New York: Schocken, 1991),187–88. 142 See Tishby, Wisdom, 3:1254–55.



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manner they blunt the forces of evil and strengthen and actualize the divine elan vital.143

Introspective Contemplation of the Psyche as Fashioning Conceptual Interiorization in Kabbalah R. Elijah de Vidas’s book Re’shit Ḥokhmah contains outstanding inner contemplative explanations of patently Zoharic ideas:144 R. Simeon bar Yohai, may he rest in peace, taught us the secret of the essence of love. The matter is what he said before this regarding the love of the Companions: “All the Companions in the days of Rabbi Shim’on loved one another in soul and spirit.”145 The explanation of this is that a person’s love of his fellow is by the soul, for love is the desire of the soul. Even though bodies are divided and separate from one another, the soul of this one and that one is the spiritual, and the spiritual is not discrete. Rather, it is united by the epitome of unity. As one Companion’s soul arouses its desire to love its fellow, its fellow’s soul, too, will awaken and love him; and the two souls will be as one, as the verse says regarding David and Jonathan: “Jonathan’s soul became bound up with the soul of David; Jonathan loved David as himself ” [I Sam. 18:1]. David’s love for Jonathan aroused his [Jonathan’s] love for him [David], as it says: “They kissed each other and wept together, etc., David wept the longer” [I Sam. 20:41]; and he [= David] said upon his 143 R. Hayyim of Volozhyn’s attempt to limit the theurgic meanings of this Zoharic teaching about Israel, who “give strength to their Master,” an attempt based on Lam. Rabbah 1:33, is evident in the first part of his Nefesh ha-Ḥayyim. Shalom Rosenberg’s opposition to the contemporary Kabbalah scholars who emphasize the theurgic nature of Kabbalah continues the direction taken by R. Hayyim. See Rosenberg, “The Myth of Myths” [Heb], Jewish Studies 38 (1998): 149–61. The above discussion casts additional light on this controversy. 144 On the book’s general nature and its place in the Kabbalistic ethical literature, see Mordechai Pachter, “The Book ‘Re’shit Ḥokhmah’ by R. Eliyahu De-Vidas and Its Epitomes” [Heb], Kirjath Sepher 47 (1971–1972): 686–709. On the place of the book in nascent Hasidism, see idem, “Traces of the Influence of R. Elijah de Vidas’s Re’shit Ḥokhmah upon the Writings of R. Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye” [Heb], in Studies in Jewish Mysticism, Philosophy, and Ethical Literature Presented to Isaiah Tishby, ed. Joseph Dan and Joseph Hacker (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1986), 569–91. 145 Zohar 2:190b (trans.: Matt, Zohar, 6:76). See Yehuda Liebes, “The Messiah in the Zohar” [Heb], in The Messianic Idea in Jewish Thought: A Study Conference in Honour of the Eightieth Birthday of Gershom Scholem. Held December 4–5, 1977, ed. Samuel Ream (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1982), 157–64.

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[= Jonathan’s] death: “Your love was wonderful to me more than the love of women” [II Sam. 1:26]. Solomon, may he rest in peace, taught us this reality, that their souls were bound together in the awakening of love, when he said: “As face answers to face in water, so does one man’s heart to another” [Prov. 27:19], which the Rabbis interpreted: “R. Hanina said, Does water have a face? Rather, what is this water? You put it in a vessel and you gaze into it, and it is visible to you, so too, man’s heart to another man.”146 This explains what we interpreted, that just as water in a vessel, when a person gazes into it, he will see his face in it. These are two kinds of “face”: one is the face through which he looks, which is direct light, and the face in the water that he sees is light reflected from below to above, from the water in the vessel to him, and the two faces are one, they are bound together. If a person averts his gaze from the water, he will see nothing in the water, for there is no direct light there, no reflected light. And so a man’s heart to another: when a person arouses his heart’s desire to love his fellow, this desire will arouse his fellow’s heart to him. And if this is as we said, that the face in which a person gazes in the water is direct light, this is according to the material reality. But the spiritual reality is the secret of the lower awakening, that ascends from our actions to the Shekhinah; this is the matter of the feminine waters of which the Zohar speaks.147 If there is no lower awakening, there is no supernal awakening, as it is said: “but a flow would well up from the ground” [Gen. 2:6]; and afterwards, “and water,” as this was interpreted in the Zohar.148

The original exegesis of Prov. 27:19 explains the relationship between the outwardness and inwardness of the same person. The heart reveals to a person, as if in a mirror, his inner world. Inner life is seemingly as transparent as water, but since it has a special “vessel” that contains it, which is the heart, a person can thereby discern the inner aspects of his life. De-Vidas uses this water analogy for a completely different end: to explain both the nature of the psychological connection between people and the similarity and association between this connection and that between man and the divine world. He reads the verse differently. De-Vidas does not find here the relationship between a person’s heart and his entire personality, but 146 Midrash Mishle, ed. Burton L. Visotzky (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1990), chap. 27, 112. For English translation, see The Midrash on Proverbs, trans. Burton L. Visotzky (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 112–13. 147 Zohar 1:17b–18a; 25:b–26a. 148 De-Vidas, Re’shit Ḥokhmah, Sha‘ar ha-Ahavah 1:25–27, ed. Waldman, 1:361–62.



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that between one person and another, or between one person’s heart and another’s. The transparency of the water is a mirror of the love in a person’s heart for his fellow. The water in the vessel possesses intrinsic tangibility, in addition to reflecting the love of the person gazing into it. It is as if the water absorbs the love (direct light), which is now compared to the love that is aroused in the heart of the other person (reflected light).149 All depends on the gazer: if he lifts his eyes from the water, no substantiality will be created within the water itself. The direct light, which is actually the loving stare of the gazer, also enables the existence of the reflected light, the emotion of love that is returned by the second person; and both join together in the love between friends. The spiritual sense common to human beings makes possible the inner union between these two people, that is—love. It is this inner chord that also allows for the contact between man and the divine worlds (= the soul of the world). The Zoharic notion of the arousal below as causing the arousal above was revealed by means of the inward contemplation of the psychological connection between friends. The inner spiritual plane is the one that unites different people, and it also enables people to understand the secret of connection between man and his world and the godly world, a linkage that, in actuality, is dependent upon man. “If a person averts his gaze from the water, he will see nothing in the water.” If a person does not direct his soul and spirit to God, He will remain indifferent to him. Beyond the 149 Bracha Sack found the sources of the idea that the soul is compared to a mirror, and that each Israelite soul reflects the other souls, also compared to mirrors, in R. Moses Cordovero’s Or Yakar commentary to the Zohar: “For the soul of every one from Israel is included in the sixty myriads [= 600,000] that together are as the image of a mirror, for all the mirrors that will be placed opposite it and close to it will show itself ” (Or Yakar, 13:238, on Torah, Numbers 1:2). See Sack, Cordovero, 206–9. Sack noted the evolution, or parallel, in Cordovero’s writings on the reflection of the Sefirot in each other. Zeev Gries analyzed the comparison of the soul to a pure, polished mirror in Bahya Ibn Paquda, Ḥovot ha-Levavot, Sha‘ar Ḥeshbon Nefesh, chap. 4. English translation: The Book of Direction to the Duties of the Heart, 239–40. Gries also suggested viewing al-Ghazzali as the source of the imagery. See al-Ghazzali, Ma’aznei Zedek, 35–36, 44–45, 52–53; see Gries, Conduct Literature (Regimen Vitae): Its History and Place in the Life of Beshtian Hasidism [Heb] (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1990), 252 n. 18. An additional source of the mirror imagery, according to Gries, is the Talmudic dictum: “With his own blemish he stigmatizes others as unfit” (BT Kiddushin 70a). On Vidas’s metaphor of gazing into water in the context of his concept of love, see Mordechai Pachter, “The Theory of Devekut in the Writings of the Sages of Safed in the Sixteenth Century” [Heb], Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 3 (1982): 97–115, esp. 101–102.

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conception of the Sefirot paralleling man’s psyche, from a human perspective at least, the divine world is completely dependent on human spirituality. The Zoharic sexual imagery of the lower water (“the feminine waters”) that arouses the upper water, which is the “masculine shefa [emanated bounty]”—that is, femininity arouses masculinity—is understood here in a psychological sense. Psychological desire, the spiritual intentionality toward God that comes from man, arouses the divine emanation, and this consequently seeks to unite with the spirituality that comes from man.150 De-Vidas then uses existential terminology to formulate his expansion of this notion. I will discuss this aspect in the following chapter.

The Kabbalistic Psychological Interpretation of the Narratives in the Torah Abraham Abulafia interpreted the stories in the Torah as directly relating to the life of the psyche. Idel used Abulafia’s interpretation of the Binding of Isaac to exemplify this interpretation and summed up the inward nature of this commentary as follows: . . . the story of the binding is conceived as an inner conflict, a man testing himself to see if he is capable of having his intellect rule over his imagination. The opening of this section does not speak of Abraham necessarily, but rather of a man who thinks in his heart of what his response would be if commanded by God to sacrifice his son. Will he be able to forego his physicalimaginational propensity as a result of a command from the intellect?151

Idel maintains that it was Abulafia’s mystical method, which focuses on the names of God, that enabled him to transform the Biblical text itself into one that relates the life of the psyche, similar to clearly philosophical texts. For Abulafia, the tests depicted in the Bible are a psychological lesson meant to teach man to come to know his way of thinking: This is for the sake of [obtaining] knowledge, so that the one being tested knows the actual nature of his own thought processes [intent]. And this is called ‘complete knowledge,’ for the true nature of one’s thought [intent] 150 On goodwill as attesting to the divine within man, see above, 298–9. 151 Idel, Language, Torah, and Hermeneutics, 121–22; see also 61–63, the citations from Abraham Abulafia’s commentary to The Guide of the Perplexed: Sefer Ḥayyei ha-Nefesh, MS. Munich 408, fol. 83b, 84a–b.



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is known only as potential, and indeed with actualization the true nature of one’s [thought intent] becomes known. . . . A parable may be provided for this [understanding the nature of the trial] with regard to one’s sexual inclination in reference to forbidden forms of sexual contact. One may think himself totally immune to this inclination, and that if an opportunity were to present itself to him, he would not transgress. But when the opportunity actually presents itself, and he finds that nothing would prevent him from transgressing, due to the total seclusion that he finds himself in, together with a woman, he actually does transgress. At that point he will know that his previous self-estimation was false. Whereas if he is able to take control of himself he would know that his self-estimation was accurate. Thus, it [the trial] is for the sake of [obtaining self-] knowledge. It is the person who is actually testing himself so that he would know in actuality the truth of his self-estimation. And this, only he will know.152

Paralleling Abulafia’s interpretation, the Zohar, too, contains psychological interpretation of the Torah’s narratives that, in the spirit of the above Zoharic passages, emphasizes the connection between the psychological-human and the godly. For example, the following Zoharic exegesis of (Gen. 45:27–28) “But when they recounted all that Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to transport him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. ‘Enough!’ said Israel. ‘My son Joseph is still alive! I must go and see him before I die’”: Rabbi Shim’on said, “At first, ‘the spirit of Jacob revived’; afterward, ‘Israel said, “Enough! Joseph my son is still alive”’ (ibid., 28). Well, at first, Torah calls him Jacob because they made Shekhinah a partner in that ban when Joseph was sold. Now that Shekhinah has arisen: “the spirit of Jacob revived”— mystery of Shekhinah. Once She is firmly established, a rung above arouses toward Her—rung of Israel. From here we learn that mystery above does not arouse until first there is arousal below. For here, “the spirit of Jacob revived,” at first; afterward, “Israel said.”153

In this teaching, the boundaries between Jacob’s personal character and his Zoharic symbolic meaning are blurred. “The spirit of their father Jacob revived” is a human event that happened following Joseph’s making 152 Abraham Abulafia, Sefer Mafteah ha-Ḥokhmot, MS. Parma 141, fol. 25b (cited in Idel, Language, Torah, and Hermeneutics, 121–22). 153 Zohar 1:210b-211a (trans.: Matt, Zohar, 3:295).

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himself known to his brothers; the meaning of this event, which was the lower arousal, was the Divine Presence’s renewed resting in Jacob’s inner life. The event in the earthly world is what effects the ascent into the upper worlds, that, the Zohar claims, is alluded in the name change from Jacob to Israel. This teaching fundamentally resembles the above Zoharic teaching on the Exodus. Here, too, the direction that is presented—from below to above—means that human life (in this case the reviving of Jacob’s soul after the tidings about Joseph), strengthens, raises, and actualizes the godly life. “Jacob” and “Israel” are not merely symbolic concepts that are to be interpreted in accordance with the Sefirotic symbolism of the Zohar. The inner processes that produced the change in Jacob, following which he would be called “Israel,” create tangible and positive change in the divine world. Lurianic Kabbalah contains parallels between anthropomorphic concepts attributed to the Lurianic world of Sefirot and partzufim [the countenances of God], on the one hand, and on the other, human life. As Pachter showed, states such as katnut [“smallness”] and gadlut [“greatness”], that Lurianic Kabbalah ascribes to processes in the godly supernal worlds, also explain human psychological processes experienced by key characters in the Biblical narratives.154 The states of katnut to which Moses had to descend due to the influence of the sin of the Golden Calf over him are described in R. Hayyim Vital’s commentary to “But the Lord was wrathful with me on your account” (Deut. 3:26): You already know that Moses possessed the aspect of katnut and gadlut; and similarly, all the souls are in the form of Zeir Anpin that has ibbur, katnut, and gadlut. The secret of this is that the Lord, may He be blessed, gives wisdom to the leaders of the generation according to the merit of the generation. When Israel sinned with the Calf, they caused Moses to return to the secret of ibbur, and the rest of the illuminations he had ceased; all that was left him was the aspect of the illumination of ibbur, and he returned to his state of katnut.155 154 Mordechai Pachter, “Katnut and Gadlut in Lurianic Kabbalah” [Heb], Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 10 (1992): 171–210. 155 Schneur Zalman ben Baruch of Lyady, Likkutei Torah (Vilna: Romm, 1904), Vaetḥanan, p. 235 (cited by Pachter, “Katnut,” 206); see the entire teaching. R. Hayyim Vital lists three periods in the process of Zeir Anpin’s development: ibbur, katnut, and gadlut. Vital uses metaphors taken from human ontological development to portray the changes in the divine state. For Zeir Anpin, see Tishby, Wisdom, 1:335 n. 282.



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In some passages of the Lurianic corpus, the occupation with the divine partzufim and the states of katnut and gadlut in the Godhead rouse a more inward, or even psychological, reading of the stories of the Torah. The portrayals of the gadlut and katnut in Moses’ life became a model of the psychological states of “all the souls.”

The Interiorization of the Kabbalistic Teaching of the Sabbatical and Jubilee Years Scholem wrote that the Kabbalistic teaching of the Sabbatical years, especially as it was fashioned by the author of Sefer ha-Temunah, imparts historical significance to divine processes and includes the possibility of understanding the messianic era as an essential change in the dimensions of time and the physical orders of the world.156 Notwithstanding this, Scholem also acknowledged the possibility of giving this teaching an interpretation based on a conceptual interiorization reflected in the following passage by R. Isaac of Acre in his book Meirat Einayim:157 Accordingly, contemplate and look with your good intellect, for after the removal of the Evil Inclination, “He did not create it a waste, but formed it for habitation” [Isa. 45:18]. Then the opposite will be the case: He did not form it for habitation, but created a waste. Then those who seclude themselves will multiply, and those who set themselves apart will increase, until before the completion of the sixth millennium, man and beast will disappear from the earth, for by the soul’s overwhelming the body, all the bodily sensations will cease, and man, even during his lifetime, will be a soul without body, due to his great adherence to the Lord, may He be blessed. . . . We have learned the secret of the chaos of the seventh millennium, that the world will be destroyed and emptied of all creatures. Once there will be no creatures, there will be no emanation, for the Shekhinah will not rest on the trees and the stones. The world will collapse and become chaos, as it was at the beginning of Creation. Afterwards, in the eighth millennium, the Lord, may He be 156 Scholem, Beginnings of the Kabbalah, 187, 192. See also ibid., chap. 7 (“Sefer ha-Temunah and the Doctrine of Sabbatical Years,” 176–92); idem, Origins of the Kabbalah, 460–74; idem, On the Kabbalah, 77–83. 157 Scholem, Beginnings of the Kabbalah, 187 n. 2. Idel presented R. Isaac the Blind’s interpretation of Sabbatical years as interiorization; see Moshe Idel, “The Jubilee in Jewish Mysticism,” in Millenarismi nella cultura contemporanea, ed. Rambaldi Enrico I (Milan: Franco Angeli, 2000), 209–32.

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blessed, will create ex nihilo and renew the world. This progression will continue until the great Jubilee, which is the Jubilee of the Holy One, blessed be He, which is fifty thousand years, which is a thousand generations. Even according to the view that in the seventh millennium [the world] will not return to chaos as it was at the beginning of Creation, only the creatures, while the change shall occur in the way of “He established the earth on its foundations,” etc. [Ps. 104:5]; or, even according to the view that the destruction of the world does not refer to all creatures, but only to the destruction of their desire for bodily matters, then whoever kills his desires in his lifetime, and the body is destroyed as if he has no body—they are dead in their lifetimes, and live after their deaths. This is the meaning of Scripture: “Then I praised those who are already dead” [Eccl. 4:2]. The Rabbis said: The one who does not want to die is to die, so that he will not die.158 In any event, the entire world is in agreement, with none dissenting, every Israelite [who believes] in the Torah of Moses and the tradition of the prophets concurs that in fifty thousand years the world will return to chaos, as it was before the six days of Creation, and this is the negation of the Evil Inclination.159

R. Isaac of Acre clearly indicates that the meaning of the destruction of the world in the Kabbalistic teaching of the Sabbatical years is not physical, but rather of a spiritual-inner nature. This will be a direct result of the negation of the Evil Inclination by means of asceticism and seclusion that will bring humanity as a whole to maximal spiritual devotion, to the very annulment of bodily sensation, meaning that man, while alive, will be a “soul without a body.” This expression is plainly explained by R. Isaac of Acre in his commentary to the Torah portion of Re’eh, earlier in his book: Now, you should know that when the divine intellect descends and reaches the Passive Intellect, and when the Passive Intellect reaches the psyche [nefesh] in man—for man is called “nefesh”—the divine intellect in man’s psyche is called nefesh, which comes from above to down below. When you look upon this from down below upward, you see that when man separates himself from the vanities of this world, and causes his thought and soul to adhere to the upper spheres, constantly, his soul will be named after the highest of the supernal attributes which he perceived and to which he 158 Apparently following the Talmudic dictum: “What shall a man do to live? Let him kill himself ” (BT Tamid 32a). 159 Isaac ben Samuel of Acre, Meirat Einayim, ed. Hayyim Aryeh Ehrlinger (Jerusalem, 1993), Nitzavim, on the commentary of Nahmanides to Deut. 30:6, 308–10.



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adhered. How so? If the secluded soul merited to attain the passive intellect, it will be called “passive intellect,” as if it itself were the passive intellect. Similarly, when it ascends further and perceives and adheres to the acquired intellect, then it becomes the acquired intellect. And if it merited further and adheres to the Active Intellect, then it itself is the Active Intellect. And if it merits to adhere to the divine intellect, it is fortunate, for it has returned to its foundation and root, and is actually called the divine intellect. That man will be called the man of God, or the godly man, the creator of worlds.160

This passage by R. Isaac of Acre, which has its source in Abulafian philosophy, as Idel showed,161 not only clarifies the nature of the conceptual interiorization at the basis of his interpretation of the Kabbalistic teaching of the Sabbatical years, it also explicates the inner nature of the Abulafian method as a whole and the nature of the epistemological interiorization in which it is grounded (see below, chapter six).

Conceptual Interiorizations in Hasidism Many of the conceptual interiorizations surveyed above resound strongly in Hasidism. At times we gain the impression that the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples intentionally searched different sources for many of these interiorizations, which they used to create a Jewish renaissance that made inner religious life the focus of their lives.

Inner Godliness In one of the shorter teachings in Likkutei Moharan, R. Nahman of Bratslav combines the notion of inner Godliness (whose Zoharic source was discussed above)162 with the interiorization of the “Place” of the rabbis: When a person has a heart, place is irrelevant for him. To the contrary, he is the place of the world, etc. For godliness is in the heart, as it is said, “God is the rock of my heart” [Ps. 73:26]. Regarding the Lord, may He be blessed, it is said: “See, there is a place by Me” [Exod. 33:21], for He is the Place of His world, and the world is not His place. Consequently, whoever has an Israelite 160 Isaac ben Samuel of Acre, Meirat Einayim, Re’eh, on the commentary of Nahmanides to Deut. 14:1, 287. 161 See Idel, “Hitbodedut as Concentration in Ecstatic Kabbalah.” 162 Above, 298–9.

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heart should not rightly say that this place is not good for him, for place is irrelevant for him. To the contrary, he is the place of the world, and the world is not his place.163

In his commentary to the rabbinic dictum “For He is the Place of the world, and the world is not His place” (Gen. Rabbah 68:9), R. Nahman identifies the Place with inner godliness, and thereby, in effect, effaces the distance between the place of God and that of man. God’s place is also within man, and where man has a heart, that is, when man is connected to his inner world, his longings, and the depth of his feelings, he is already in the godly place. This conceptual formulation is based on the epistemological interiorization formulated by the Baal Shem Tov: “where man thinks is where He is.” This idea will be discussed at length in chapter six; at this point, I wish to focus on the notion that godliness is present within man. The story of the heart and the spring that R. Nahman tells within the context of the story for the third day in the tale “The Seven Beggars” begins as follows: Everything has a heart. Therefore the world as a whole also has a heart. The Heart of the World has a complete body, with face, hands, and feet. . . . However, a toenail of the Heart of the World has more of the essential nature of a heart than the heart of anything else.164

After this introduction, no great effort is required to show that “the heart” is the innerness in every thing. Just as man has an inner nature, so too, the world as a whole has a heart, an innerness. This comparison between the heart of man and that of the world enables us to perceive the divinity within man and God as mutual reflections of the same essence, similar to what was written above about conceptual interiorizations by means of the contemplation of the life of the psyche and psychological interpretations in Kabbalistic literature.165

163 Likkutei Moharan 2:56. 164 Nahman of Bratzlav, The Seven Beggars and Other Kabbalistic Tales of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, trans. Aryeh Kaplan (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2005), “The Seven Beggars,” 32–33. 165 See above, 318–24.



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The Inner Point The notion of the divine within man evolved in Hasidic thought—especially in the nineteenth century—into the concept of the inner point. This development is especially evident in Sefat Emet, as it links the ideas of memory and the inner point: The holiday of Pesah is called Shabbat in the Torah, as in “from the day after the Sabbath” (Lev. 23:15). Pesah is like Shabbat, of which Scripture says “remember” and “keep.” Of Pesah too it says: “this day will be a remembrance for you” (Ex. 12:14) or “so that you remember the day you came out of Egypt” (Deut. 16:3) and “Keep the month of Aviv” (Deut. 16:1); “Keep the matzot” (Ex. 12:17). For memory is a point within, one where there is no forgetfulness. . . . Every Jew has this inner place, the gift of God. Our task is really to expand that point, to draw all our deeds to follow it. This is our job throughout the year, for better or worse. But this holiday of matzot is the time when the point itself is renewed, purified from any defilement. Therefore, it has to be guarded from any “ferment” or change on this holiday. “Keep the matzot, for on this very day I brought the children of Israel forth from the land of Egypt” (Ex. 12:17)—be`etsem [“this very day”) refers to that inward point, just as it is in itself (be-`atsmo) without any change. This is why it needs “keeping.” “This day is a remembrance”—for the renewal of that point within, the point of memory. One could also read it “a remembrance” indeed, a day that reminds us of the real reason we were created in this world: to do His will. And this day gives remembrance. This is the meaning of “so that you remember the day you came out, etc.”—all the days of your life. “The days of your life” are the special illuminations for a person, to rectify all the days of his life in the world. By means of “the day you came out of Egypt” you will remember all the days of your life. The meaning of “the day you came out” is, by means of the day you came out, you will remember. For it gives remembrance, as it is written, “This day is [a remembrance]”—for remembrance, as mentioned above. And remembrance is connection, that can connect all the days with their root, by means of “the day you came out of Egypt.”166

R. Nahman writes, in a kindred spirit: 166 Alter, Sefat Emet, exposition for Pesah 1897, 99–100. For English translation, see English edition: The Language of Truth: The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet, trans. Arthur Green (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1998), 389–90, with addition.

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A person must carefully guard his memory so that he does not fall into forgetfulness, the aspect of “a demise of the heart.” And the essence of memory is to be continually very mindful of the World to Come. One should never entertain the thought, God forbid, that there is only a single world. Through this that he attaches his thought to the World to Come, the unification YHVH-Elohim is achieved.167

The memory of which the Hasidic masters speak is the recollection of the godly essence existent within man and the world. The World to Come is not the world after death, but the other world: the godly inwardness that sustains this world. The thought’s adherence to the existence of the godly world that dwells within all Yesh is the secret of spiritual life, and forgetting this idea is compared to the death of that heart. A comparison of this teaching with the passage by the rabbi of Gur in Sefat Emet teaches of a conceptual continuity between R. Nahman’s conception of inner godliness and the inner point of the rabbi of Gur. The great danger that lies in wait for all men, and especially for the Hasid, lies in forgetting the existence of this point, abandoning the awareness of the existence of the heart—in practice, causing the death of this inner point. The Hasidic teaching of the inner divinity assumes that the existence of this divinity is conditional upon human consciousness. If a person forgets that inwardness is godly, all that remains in his consciousness is the outer existence, and in epistemological terms, the divine within can no longer exist.168

Smallness [Katnut] and Greatness [Gadlut] The Hasidic understanding of katnut de-mohin and gadlut de-mohin relates these Lurianic concepts to man’s inner spiritual state in accordance with the inherent psychological aspect of the Lurianic sources themselves.169 In this short discussion, I will not reexamine the Kabbalistic source of the concepts, but rather indicate the overt psychological meaning given them by 167 Nahman of Bratzlav, Likkutei Moharan I:54(1) (trans.: Likutey Moharan, vol. 6, trans. Moshe Mykoff [Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute, 1999], 142–45). 168 See the extensive discussion: Piekarz, “The Inner Point.” On Gur Hasidism, see Yoram Jacobson, “Truth and Faith in Gur Hasidic Thought” [Heb], in Studies in Jewish Mysticism, Philosophy, and Ethical Literature Presented to Isaiah Tishby, ed. Joseph Dan and Joseph Hacker (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1986), 593–616. 169 Yehuda Liebes, “‘Two Young Roes of a Doe’: The Secret Sermon of Isaac Luria before His Death” [Heb], Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 10 (1992): 113–69; Pachter, “Katnut”; above, 323 n. 155.



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the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov. “Smallness” and “greatness” were transformed from terms portraying states within the Godhead to fundamental concepts used in describing a person’s spiritual condition; man was deemed to be a dynamic entity because of the constant changes in the states of the godly vitality within him. The changes in the power of the life force within man determine the nature of his spiritual world: will he be engaged with small, inferior things, or with great matters? That is, it is life’s godly and spiritual contents that infuse it with lofty spiritual significance. The thing of the matter is that “Dashing to and fro among the creatures” [Ezek. 1:14] is the secret of “smallness” and “greatness,” and a person cannot stand on a single level. The reason is that a person is called a “small world,” and from all the totality of the four worlds of Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah, Asiyah are included in him. When he cleaves to Him, may He be blessed, by Torah and prayer, then he elevates all the sparks of the four worlds of Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah, Asiyah. If he remains in this exalted level, what will he correct tomorrow? Consequently, he descends once again, in order to elevate other aspects, etc.170

The inner-spiritual dynamic, with its ascents and descents, is perceived as indispensable. In the spirit of Kabbalistic thought, the states of devekut [adherence to the godly] during prayer and Torah study are seen as rectifying all the worlds. As, however, we shall see in the following chapter, the idea of rectification is clearly existentialist. Accordingly, constantly remaining in states of “greatness,” which would seem to be the ideal for Hasidim, is interpreted by R. Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye (following the understanding of his teacher the Baal Shem Tov of “Dashing to and fro among the creatures”) as a denial of the obligation to rectify the world. This rectification is performed through the repeated elevation of the material reality to spirituality by the intellective adherence to the spiritual. This obligation 170 Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye, Ketonet Pasim, ed. Gedalyah Nigal (Jerusalem: Peri Haaretz Institute, 1975), fol. 21a, 143–44. Cf. ibid., fol. 31a, 213: “This will explain, ‘R. Yose ben Kisma said, “Once I was walking along the way”’ [M Avot 6:10], for it is called ‘walking’ when a person descends from his level, the opposite of coming, for ‘Dashing to and fro among the creatures.’ For it is impossible to remain on a single level, since in the world there is the principle of moḥin de-katnut, which is the aspect of God [Elohim], and moḥin de-gadlut, which is the aspect of YHWH, as it is said in Peri Etz Ḥayyim, Laws of Pesah [see Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk, Peri Etz Ḥayyim, Sha‘ar Hag ha-Matzot (Jerusalem: Hoza’at Kitvei Rabeinu Heari, 1988), chap. 1, 493]. Thus man possesses this aspect of smallness and greatness.”

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enables viewing the “smallness” states and descent as necessary for the daily renewal of the rectification process: “descent for the purpose of ascent.”171

Inner Messianism Idel discusses at length the interiorization of traditional messianic conceptions in the thought of R. Abraham Abulafia. He argues that Abulafia was the first to internalize the meaning of the character of the Messiah, and that he regarded traditional concepts relating to “the birthpangs of the Messiah” as portraying the struggle to attain inner redemption.172 In Hasidic thought, these conceptions refer not only to anomic efforts, but also to the totality of religious activity, and especially prayer and Torah study: In the exile of Israel, some of those judging forces from above take on the form of nations that bring us suffering. Were Israel to have full faith in the power of mind, and apply it to Torah study with awe and love, they would uplift and transform all such judgments into pure good. Each of those nations would then have only one cycle of ascendancy, followed by immediate decline, for the good would have been lifted out from it. It is only because our faith is imperfect that the exile lasts so long. Even those who do pray and study, if their minds are not fully attuned and if not accompanied by love and awe, cannot form the ladders needed for the transformation of judgment forces. This can be done only by mind. The true meaning of exile, then, is that mind is in exile because it is not employed properly in the service of God. The lessening of faith brings about a diminishing of mind; faith, the seventh of the upper rungs, is the gateway through which one must enter to get to da`at and all the attributes.173

The repeated use of the Kabbalistic linkage between exile and dinim, the “judging forces,” would seem to give the impression that this Hasidic teaching adds nothing to the Kabbalistic discussions of Exile and Redemption. 171 This expression, characteristic of Hasidic thought, is based on the interpretation that R. Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye, in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, gave to the verse “Dashing to and fro among the creatures” (Ezek. 1:14). See, for example, Alter, Sefat Emet, sermon for Shavuot 1874, 24. 172 Idel, Messianic Mystics, 65–79. 173 Menahem Mendel of Chernobyl, Me’or Einayim, Vayetze, 66. English translaton based on Menahem Mendel of Chernobyl, Upright Practices, The Light of the Eyes, trans. Arthur Green (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), 221.



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The special meaning, however, of the expression “Torah study with awe and love” in the Hasidic literature, and especially in Meor Einayim, teaches otherwise. Exile is exile from knowledge [da’at], and therefore redemption is conditional upon occupation with Torah study and prayer in the way of “awe and love,” that is, Hasidic inward focusing. The messianic idea was interiorized in the literature of nascent Hasidism and was perceived as an expression of epistemological religious processes, and not as an outer change. Many of the Hasidic masters shared this messianic interiorization, with its focus on inner prayer and the development of spiritual awareness, which they called the attainment of knowledge. Scholem regarded this early Hasidic messianic interiorization as neutralizing messianism;174 Dinur and Tishby led the vigorous opposition to this claim, and brought a number of proofs to refute it.175 Scholem’s opponents maintained that the new meanings of messianism did not abrogate for Hasidim the collective messianic hope and the desire to immigrate [la-alot; literally, “go up”] to the material Land of Israel. In light of these two opposing schools of thought, I propose that for the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples—who sought to overcome the material-spirit dualism—immigration to the Land of Israel and living in it were deemed to be redemptive and messianic. This, however, would be the case only if the people living in the Land were capable of connecting the material and the form, corporeality and the Godhead, in their prayers and in their way of life.176

The Sefirot as Human Character Traits The psychologization of the doctrine of the Sefirot, which had its beginnings in the ecstatic Kabbalah of R. Abraham Abulafia, made an impressive comeback in Hasidism. Idel maintains that, after a lengthy period of Kabbalistic focus on the structure of the Godhead and the processes that 174 Gershom Scholem, “The Neutralization of Messianism in Early Hasidism,” in Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism: And Other Essays in Jewish Spirituality (New York: Schocken, 1995), 178–202; Margolin, Human Temple, 32–33. 175 Ben Zion Dinur, The Changing of the Generations: Researches and Studies in the History of Israel from Early Modern Times [Heb] (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1972), 170–227; Isaiah Tishby, “The Messianic Idea and Messianic Trends in the Growth of Hasidism” [Heb], Zion 32 (1975): 1–45. For a fuller survey of references on Hasidism and the messianic idea, see Margolin, Human Temple, 406; Liebes, “The Messiah in the Zohar.” 176 Margolin, Human Temple, 338.

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occur within it, Hasidism returned to interpret the Sefirot as forces within man, similar to the direction set forth by Abulafia.177 The theosophic system that faced the Hasidic camp was much more complex than that with which Abulafia was familiar, since Kabbalistic theosophy had greatly developed between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries; nonetheless, the two conceptions definitely share a common element.178 We may reasonably assume that when the Baal Shem Tov spoke of human character traits, he was influenced by the above passage in Cordovero’s Pardes Rimmonim.179 R. Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye relates in two places how the Baal Shem Tov interpreted the idea that man is called a small world (microcosmos): I received from my teacher that there are ten Sefirot in every human being, each of whom is called “small world,” because the thought [wisdom] is called Father . . . until it reaches faithfulness, which is called two legs of truth [Netzaḥ and Hod], and pleasure is worship, called Foundation [Yesod], Tzaddiq, or Berit Milah [Circumcision].180 I received from my teacher that there are ten Sefirot in a human being, for he is a small world. As Rabad [R. Abraham ben David of Posqueires] wrote (in [his commentary to] Sefer Yetzirah), that what is in the supernal worlds is also in the year [i.e., in the dimension of time] and in man’s soul. The sign of this for you is: “Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke [ashan—read here as an abbreviation for olam, shanah, nefesh—see below], etc.” [Exod. 19:18], see there. The last [i.e., lowest] level in man, such as suffering, poverty, and tribulations, and the like, is called the attribute of Malkhut, which is the last attribute, for “her feet go down to Death” [Prov. 5:5]. Netzaḥ and Hod are lasting pillars, for a person believes that the belief in the Creator is true. The attribute of Yesod is when he delights in the service of the Lord, may He be blessed, more than all delights. For “I would behold (God) while still in my flesh” [Job 19:26; understanding “my flesh” as the sexual organ]—the organ of intercourse is the choicest of delights, for it is the unity of the joining of the male and the female; from the material he will understand the spiritual delight when he causes himself to adhere to His unity, May He be blessed,

177 Idel, New Perspectives, 146–53; idem, Hasidism, 227–38. 178 Idel, Hasidism, 234. 179 Above, 311 n. 124. 180 Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye, Toledot Ya‘akov Yosef, Kedoshim 8, 354.



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which is the root of all delights, etc. And “The wise man, hearing them, will gain more wisdom” [Prov. 1:5].181

The Baal Shem Tov explicitly mentions the commentary to Sefer Yetzirah attributed to R. Abraham ben David of Posqueires [Rabad)]as the Kabbalistic source for his interpretation, but the influence of the passage from Sefer ha-Temunah discussed above is obvious.182 As Nigal explained,183 the olam-shanah-nefesh paradigm, that frequently appears in the writings of R. Jacob Joseph, originates in the commentary to Sefer Yetzirah attributed to Rabad.184 The heart of the idea lies in its emphasis of the existence of fundamental principles common to the three dimensions: the natural world and the godly worlds [“olam”; literally, “world”]; society, that is, social time [“shanah”; literally, “year”]; and the inner life of the individual [“nefesh,” “soul”]. The Baal Shem Tov and his disciples apply this idea in varied contexts. In the context of the doctrine of the Sefirot, the depiction of the godly world in light of the Sefirotic system means that the ten Sefirot are present in man. The two sources cited above exemplify this concept for six of the ten Sefirot: Ḥokhmah, Binah, Netzaḥ, Hod, Yesod, and Malkhut. Ḥokhmah is the wisdom in man, Binah is the limitation of thought, that is, the ability to decide, Netzaḥ and Hod are faithfulness, Yesod is delight, and Malkhut is the suffering within man caused by the travails of everyday life. Each of the traits equivalent to the seven lowest Sefirot can function in man in either a high godly plane or a lowly one, that is, a material context perceived, in Hasidic sources, as base in comparison with the godly sphere. This understanding is finely set forth in the interpretation of Ḥesed as the trait of love in man brought by R. Menahem Mendel of Chernobyl, in the name of the Baal Shem Tov: The Baal Shem Tov said: If a man marries his sister, this is ḥesed185—For one who goes to [engage in] illicit sexual behavior, Heaven forfend, this is because of the love in him, and love is ḥesed [lovingkindness], the attribute

181 Ibid., Lekh Lekha 3, 57. 182 See above, 308, n. 118. 183 Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye, Zofnat Paaneah, ed. Gedalyah Nigal (Jerusalem: Institute for the Research of Hasidic Literature, 1989), introduction, 14–21. 184 “All that is attributed to the olam is attributed to shanah and to nefesh” (commentary attributed to R. Abraham ben David of Posquieres on Sefer Yetzirah 3:6). 185 Following Lev. 20:17.

The Conceptual Interiorization of Myth and Law  •  CHAPTER FOUR

that is in the Creator, may His name be blessed, but now he uses this for evil, and brings the love down, as it were, to a place of filth.186

Just as delight (which is compared to the attribute of Yesod), can be either sexual or spiritual, so too the love in man can range over a scale with love of God at its upper end, and acts of illicit sexual behavior at its bottom. The identification of the Sefirah of Yesod (also called Tzaddiq) with delight was apparently coined by the Baal Shem Tov. Idel did not find in the theosophic Kabbalah any symbolic use of the term ta‘anug [delight] as it was employed by the Baal Shem Tov.187 The interpretation by Sefer ha-Temunah for the verse in Job (23:11): “I have followed in His tracks” was used by the founder of Hasidism to highlight the bond between physical and spiritual life. The physical is a foundation for the spiritual, and whatever exists in the material can be transferred and elevated (transformation and sublimation). The Baal Shem Tov stated that we can draw an analogy from the pleasure of sexual coupling to the even greater delight that one can attain when a person is connected with the godly.188 Since the Baal Shem Tov identifies Ḥokhmah and Binah with man’s thought and ability to decide, we might surmise, in light of the plethora of Hasidic sources brought in the name of the Baal Shem Tov that speak of the divine life force, that the highest Sefirah for him is the divine vitality in man, on which all existence depends. Following the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezheritch and his disciples continued this occupation with the divine attributes within man. In the following quotation the maggid discusses the attributes of Din and Tiferet; however, special note should be taken of the centrality of the motif of thought in this teaching: If a person comes to self-aggrandizement [hitpa’arut] in his thought, this is in the world of Tiferet, and if he comes to think of love, this is in the world of love, and similarly regarding the other attributes of the seven days of construction [= the seven lowest Sefirot]. If he is wise enough to shed materiality from himself, then he adheres with that same supreme love to the attributes of the Creator, may He be blessed. Even though the love that comes in his thought now is of this world, he can shed this materiality 186 Menahem Mendel of Chernobyl, Me’or Einayim, Miketz, 82. 187 Idel, New Perspectives, 352 n. 369, argues that the term as used in Sefer ha-Bahir, ed. Margolius, para. 21, 31, denotes an emotional event with no symbolic meaning. 188 On the pleasure principle in the writings of Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye, see Margolin, Human Temple, 218–20.



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from himself, to have this [worldly love = materiality] adhere to the root of supernal love.189 When a king has a son in a place of filth, he goes to that place out of love of his son, to take him from there. Thus, at times a thought is born in man because [what is in] the [supernal] worlds descends from above, and that thought comes to man, as well. When he is wise to know to what the thought belongs, whether to love, to fear [of God], or Tiferet; even though this is from the matters of this world, in physical desire, he is capable of elevating it. He will know that that thought must be rectified at that time, whether in love, in fear, or in Tiferet; for it was spoiled due to the smashing [of the vessels], and now is the time to elevate it. Consequently, the thought descended from the upper worlds and came to the person to elevate it from the smashing. That is, he is to adhere to the Creator, may He be blessed, according to that attribute, whether in love, in fear, or in Tiferet, and the other attributes of the seven days of construction . . . for in everything is to be found the pervasion of the Creator [i.e., the divine life force], may He be blessed, for “His presence fills all the earth” [Isa. 6:3]. He will elevate the inner nature that there is in everything, each according to its degree, from the seven days of construction, and the inner nature of that thing will adhere to the Creator, may He be blessed. For it is impossible to make any movement or speak anything without the power of the Creator, may He be blessed. And this is the meaning of “His presence fills all the earth.”190

The Maggid of Mezheritch, who was known as a Kabbalist before he met the Baal Shem Tov, is somewhat cautious in his use of these concepts in these passages. He focuses on the “seven days of construction” (that is, the seven lowest Sefirot), and especially on Ḥesed, Din, and Tif ’eret. He emphasizes the notion of the elevation of the fallen thoughts to their source, in the spirit of the Lurianic ideas of the smashing of the vessels and the fall of the sparks, but he also clearly interiorizes these Kabbalistic ideas and applies them in the realm of inner life. The new light he casts on these topics, however, is focused mainly on his profound contemplation of human thought: [A person’s] thought . . . is perceived by the person himself, and not by others. Qadmut ha-sekhel [i.e., what precedes consciousness] is not perceived even

189 Dov Baer of Mezeritch, Maggid Devarav le-Yaakov, para. 25. 190 Ibid., para. 26.

The Conceptual Interiorization of Myth and Law  •  CHAPTER FOUR

by the individual. When one of these seven thoughts comes to a tzaddiq from qadmut ha-sekhel, he causes himself to adhere, and he will strip himself of that thought . . . for Israel has the ability to bring everything to Ḥokhmah, which is the root of Israel.191

According to the maggid, a person’s thoughts on the godly attributes, that he calls the “seven thoughts,” originate in the more godly stratum present in human thought, of whose existence within him a thinking person is unaware. He calls this stratum “qadmut ha-sekhel” [the preconscious] since it is earlier and deeper, and therefore more godly, and is not known to the man who thinks it. R. Schneur Zalman of Lyady, the founder of Habad Hasidism and a disciple of the maggid, insisted that the concept of the hidden intellect—or the preconscious—relates to the essence present within the human soul: The manifestation of the intellect that is revealed within a person’s brain is merely an illumination that received emanation and is drawn from the hidden intellect in the soul [nefesh], for the hidden intellect is singular [by its unconscious presence] in the soul itself and above the . . . manifestations of its powers in thought.192

When R. Schneur Zalman attempts to explain his intent in the Tanya, he writes: . . . the soul does not intend or know to intend at all the change in the motions of the lips, of those changes. This is even more evident with the utterance of the vowels. For when it is the wish of the soul to articulate the vowel o, then, of themselves, the lips become compressed; and with the a—the lips are opened. Thus, it is absolutely the will of the soul to compress or to open . . . the pronunciation of the letters and vowels transcends the apprehended

191 Cited by Gershom Scholem, “The Subconscious and the Concept of Kadmut ha-Sekhel in Hasidic Literature” [Heb], in Sholem, Explications and Implications (Tel Aviv: Am-Ovede, 1975), 354. See also this article republished in idem, The Latest Phase: Essays on Hasidism by Gershom Scholem, ed. David Assaf and Esther Liebes (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 2008), 270. Sholem refers to Dov Baer of Mezeritch, Maggid Devarav le-Yaakov, ed. Shatz-Uffenheimer, fol. 24b, paras. 93–94, 161–62, 194. See, for example, Ahron Marcus, Der Chassidismus: Eine Kulturgeschichtliche Studie (Pleschen: Jeschurun, 1901), 106–109. Scholem also referred to a booklet written by Marcus on Hartmann and Hasidism under the pseudonym “Verus,” Hartmann’s inductive Philosophie im Chassidismus (Lemberg: Wolf, 1889). 192 Shneur Zalman ben Baruch of Lyady, Likkutei Torah, Beḥukotai, fol. 46b.



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and comprehended intellect, and is, rather, from the hidden intellect, and the primordium of the intellect which is in the articulate soul.193

Gerschom Scholem, following Aaron Marcus,194 assumed in his article “The Unconscious and the Concept of Kadmut ha-Sekhel in the Hasidic Literature” that the term “kadmut ha-sekhel,” which he first finds in the writings of the maggid, is close to the “unconscious” that appears in the writings of the German philosopher Eduard von Hartmann (1842– 1906).195 Scholem then argues: “in this concept we have an original Hebrew term that denotes the area of the unconscious in the psyche.”196 Scholem links von Hartmann’s concept of the unconscious with the psychoanalytical understanding of the concept. In my opinion, a study of these sources shows that the sense of the Hasidic term kadmut ha-sekhel is close to its meaning for Plotinus and Hartmann,197 but it does not indicate different levels of awareness, as in the “topographical” meaning it received in psychoanalytical thought. This term is meant to teach of the different levels of spontaneity in human thought. The example brought by R. Schneur Zalman in his Tanya is not close to the repressed or archetypical contents of the psychoanalytical “unconscious.” He indicates that the cognitive consciousness, which we perceive as the higher level of thought, is actually the more superficial and outer level. In contrast, man possesses a deeper plane of thought, one that is spontaneous and intuitive, which is understood by the maggid and his disciples as prior, in the sense that it serves as an unknown source for the outer epistemological level; they therefore call this “kadmut ha-sekhel”—literally, “what precedes the conscious.” 193 Idem, Likkutei Amarim, Iggeret ha-Kodesh 5 (trans.: Sefer Likutei Amarim, Part One, 409–12). 194 above, n. 191. 195 See Eduard von Hartmann, Philosophy of the Unconscious: Speculative Results according to the Inductive Method of Physical Science, trans. William Chatterton Coupland (London: Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1893); Dennis N. Kenedy Darnoi, The Unconscious and Eduard von Hartmann: A Historico-Critical Monograph (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1967). 196 Scholem, “Kadmut ha-Sekhel.” Based on this article, and in the spirit of Jungian psychology, Sigmund Hurwitz wrote his book on the archetypical motif in Hasidic mysticism, Archetypische Motive. 197 Plotinus, Enneads 3:4, 4; 3:9, 9; 4:3, 13; 4:6, 5. See Nathan Spiegel, Introduction to Plotinus’s Enneades [Heb], trans. Nathan Spiegel (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1978), 96–97.

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It is not content that distinguishes the conscious from the preconscious, but the degree of intellectual spontaneity, which nascent Hasidism especially identified with connection with the divine. According to R. Schneur Zalman, epistemological intellective activity is made possible by the existence of involuntary and unconscious activity. Since the spontaneous plane is concealed and is not manifest to the individual when he thinks, this prior intellect is perceived as directing the outer plane and is therefore also divine. The concealed and controlling nature of this plane (that is understood as more inner), explains its identification as the divine thought present in man. These are not different levels of consciousness, in the accepted psychoanalytical sense, but rather two planes—an inner plane and an outer one which generally exist in tandem, with a causeand-effect relationship between them. The spiritual goal of the Hasid, especially in the school of the Maggid of Mezheritch, is to directly connect from within with the outer intellective plane and to be directed by it. This is the meaning of the aspiration, at least during prayer or the giving over of a teaching, to attain the state of “the Divine Presence speaking from his throat,” as this is depicted in the writings of the maggid,198 and that characterizes Hasidic inward-focused prayer.199 The view of the Sefirot as man’s attributes is patently of great importance in Hasidic thought. As we see from the teachings of the Maggid of Mezheritch, the Hasidic masters linked it with their basic tenet: “His presence fills all the earth.” The divine in man is manifest in his character traits, which include intellective and emotional capabilities. Each of these capabilities is expressed in his everyday material life, but man’s task is to elevate these traits and powers to a higher level. The various human attributes have a godly source, which is perceived in Hasidism as their supernal root. By harnessing his thought to link these traits to their godly significance, man realizes his mission in life. This is the juncture in which the interiorization of the idea becomes an existential matter, which enables the uniquely Hasidic synthesis of the desire to dwell in the godly Ayin, on the one hand, 198 Dov Baer of Mezeritch, Maggid Devarav le-Yaakov, paras. 2, 50, 173. On the disagreement between R. Phinehas of Koretz and the Maggid of Mezeritch on the question of activism or passivity as regards the desired path to divine spontaneity, see Margolin, Human Temple, 343–78. 199 See above, 252–56, the discussion on prayer and inward focusing in Hasidism; Schatz Uffenheimer, Hasidism as Mysticism, chap. 7, 168–88.



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and on the other, commitment to life in this world. Faulty understanding of this synthesis led to major controversies in the study of Hasidism and to interpretations each of which emphasizes one aspect, while negating the possibility of the other.

Chapter Five

Existential Aspects of Inner Religious Life

The Preference for Inwardness In many instances, inner religious life reflects a change in the spiritual order of priorities, with life’s outer substance relegated to a secondary standing, while the inner existential contents now occupy center stage.1 This preference is based on the inclination to hold inner life in greater esteem than the outer. The favoring of interiorization is evident in the placing of man’s inner world at the center of religious life. Martin Buber drew a fundamental distinction between the external attitude to man typical of Aristotle’s discussions on the nature of man, which were conducted in the third person, and the personal self-awareness reflected by Augustine.2 In this personal awareness, the individual—as a unique personality—is the focus of his own study, in contrast with the awareness of the philosophers and scientists, Aristotle’s successors, who 1 This formulation is influenced by Søren Kierkegaard: “In Hegelian philosophy the outer (the externalization) is higher than the inner. This is often illustrated by an example. The child is the inner, the man the outer; hence the child is determined precisely by the outer, and conversely the man as the outer by the inner. Faith, on the contrary, is this paradox, that inwardness is higher than outwardness” (Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, ed. C. Stephen Evans and Sylvia Walsh, trans. Sylvia Walsh [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006], 60). 2 Buber, Between Man and Man, trans. Ronald Gregor-Smith (London: Routledge, 1993), “What Is Man?,” 150–54.


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present “Man” as an object, which they observe, taking care to detach the observed traits from the person under scrutiny as a whole.

Augustinian Self-Awareness Brian Stock explains that Augustine’s thought is to be viewed in light of the fact that most writers in antiquity employed the conception of the bios to examine the issue of self-description, without relating to historical or physical life, but rather to the way of life, and especially to the lifestyle capable of fashioning innerness by means of the will. These writers refrained from autobiographical descriptions (in the later sense of the concept) since they deemed it to be marginal, deceptive, and a distraction of what is truly essential to the self. This is why Plotinus, for example, refused to have his portrait drawn or have his students write the story of his life. The goal was knowledge of the self, and therefore, Stock argues, an artistic or literary portrayal of a person was regarded in those circles as coming in place of a study of one’s inner being.3 Augustine revived the essence of this literary and philosophical tradition through his Confessions and created a type of inner discussion within man on the conditions and limitations of self-knowledge. According to Stock, Augustine likewise differed from earlier writers on the theme of self-knowledge in making the investigation of his subjective experience the point of departure for his self-examination. His belief in the value of subjectivity was indirectly supported by the argument of the cogito, in which he anticipated Descartes. In response to the skeptical view that our knowledge of ourselves is as problematical as our knowledge of everything else, he asserted that the one thing he knew for sure was the irrefutable fact of his own existence. This proof provided him with a firm foundation for inquiring into other aspects of his self-knowledge. He also reevaluated the role of personal memories in establishing the continuity of this knowledge. The story of the soul’s progress or education, which was a theme common to many ancient inquiries into self-knowledge after Plato, thereby became

3 On the profound interest of Hellenistic and Roman philosophers in the way of life characterized by ideal wisdom and the fundamentally inner stance of thought that emphasizes self-control and the contemplative life, see Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, trans. Michael Chase, ed. Arnold I. Davidson (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995).

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associated with the account of a particular life as it proceeded in historical time through stages of incertitude, self-understanding, and ethical conduct.4 Augustine’s perception of the self was original and unique.5 This conception, however, drew upon a number of schools of thought that preceded it and laid the foundations for Augustinian thought.6 I will mention three ways of thinking characteristic of the spiritual worlds upon which Augustinian self-awareness drew: the ideal of conquering one’s desires; the existential view of Stoicism; and the preference of inner life that centered around belief as profound inner confidence.

The Ideal of Conquering One’s Desires Aristotle’s discussions on overcoming one’s desires, which I believe are also at the crux of Freud’s thoughts on these matters, significantly contribute to our understanding of the importance of the struggle against desires in the development of an existential stance that focuses on the inner. Aristotle devotes a lengthy deliberation to submission to one’s desires and overcoming them in the seventh chapter of his Nichomachean Ethics. At the heart of his discussion is the question of “how can a man fail in self-restraint when believing correctly that what he does is wrong?”7 That is, what happens within a person and leads him to submit to his desires, even though he knows that such behavior is not proper. In order to answer his question, Aristotle devotes a lengthy analysis to the concept of 4 Brian Stock, After Augustine: The Meditative Reader and the Text (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 12. 5 On Augustine and his Platonic and Plotinian sources, see Taylor, Sources of the Self, 127–42. 6 On the fashioning of the self in religious cultures in the twentieth century, see Marcel Mauss, “A Category of the Human Mind: The Notion of Person, the Notion of Self,” in The Category of the Person: Anthropology, Philosophy, History, ed. Michael Carrithers, Steven Collins, and Steven Lukes, trans. W. D. Halls (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 1–25; Michel Foucault, Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, ed. Luther Martin, Huck Gutman, and Patrick Hutton (London: Tavistock, 1998). Two collections of researches on the self and its fashioning in the religions of antiquity and in the monotheistic religions were recently published. See David Brakke, Michael L. Satlow, and Steven Weitzman (eds.), Religion and the Self in Antiquity (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005); David Shulman and Guy Stroumsa (eds.), Self and SelfTransformation in the History of Religions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). On the relationship between the idea of the self in antiquity and the modern notion, see Seigel, Idea of the Self, 45–83. 7 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 73:378–79.



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“self-restraint,” and that those who either conquer or submit to the desires are so characterized “in [their] regard to Pleasures and Pains.”8 There are two sources of pleasure: (1) physical factors, including everything connected with food and sexual relations—are basic needs; (2) nonessential factors, which nonetheless are fundamentally worthy, such as victory, honor, or wealth, and that, too, are pleasurable. For Aristotle, every excess in regard to natural degree is actually a submission to one’s inclination. A failure of self-restraint, in his wording, with regard to something which is inherently good, becomes bad when one acts in excess and becomes a servant to it. In practice, he argues, submission to one’s inclination refers to the necessary urges. In every instance in which “unrestraint” (in Aristotle’s wording) is attributed to other matters, such as anger, ambition, or greed, it is due to the similarity between an action without proper consideration and submission to the natural inclinations. Aristotle calls a person who excessively pursues pleasures for their own sake “profligate,” one who follows the middle path is “temperate,” and the one deficient in the enjoyment of pleasures is the opposite of the profligate.9 Unlike Socrates, who found it inconceivable that a person would submit to his inclination while, at the same time, realizing the impropriety of doing so, Aristotle offers a less idealistic and more normative explanation: Nor indeed does the unrestrained man even know the right in the sense of one who consciously exercises his knowledge, but only as a man asleep or drunk can be said to know something. Also, although he errs willingly (for he knows in a sense both what he is doing and what end he is aiming at), yet he is not wicked, for his moral choice is sound, so that he is only half-wicked. And he is not unjust, for he does not deliberately design to do harm, since the one type of unrestrained person does not keep to the resolve he has formed after deliberation, and the other, the excitable type, does not deliberate at all.10

Aristotle concludes his theoretical discussion on a sober note: Both Self-restraint and Unrestraint are a matter of extremes as compared with the character of the mass of mankind; the restrained man shows more and the unrestrained man less steadfastness than most men are capable of.11 8 9 10 11

Ibid., 394–95. Ibid., 410–13. Ibid., 426–27. Ibid., 428–29.

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Aristotle’s preference for normative discussion prevented him from examining how curbing one’s urges benefited a person showing such restraint. Freud, who, like Aristotle, viewed pleasure as a fundamental principle that is necessary for comprehending human behavior, had a better understanding of the influence of curbing one’s instincts on man and society. Freud’s last book, Moses and Monotheism, contains substantial observations on the function of the curbing of instincts in religious culture as a whole, and especially in Jewish religious culture.12 His comments indicate that Freud remained faithful to what he had stated explicitly earlier, in his essay, “The Future of an Illusion”: It seems rather that every civilization must be built up on coercion and renunciation of instinct . . . One has, I think, to reckon with the fact that there are present in all men destructive, and therefore anti-social and anticultural, trends and that in a great number of people these are strong enough to determine their behaviour in human society.13

At times, it seems that Freud’s theory of drives contributed greatly to Western man’s liberation from the shackles of the repressed libido. Freud himself, however, taught that the goal of psychoanalysis is to aid the human race in contending with the task of curbing instincts, to which culture owes its existence.14 Control of one’s instincts does not mean the ascetic’s 12 The Israeli psychoanalyst Yehoyakim Stein argues that Freud’s Moses and Monotheism contradicts all of his earlier writings. According to Stein, before his death Freud wrote a paean to nineteenth-century rationalism, as if he had not acted for decades to undermine this rationalism by popularizing his idea of the libido, which he had taken such efforts to place in the center of human life (Stein, The Unconscious in Science and in Psychoanalysis [Heb] [Jerusalem: Magnes, 2005], 89–99). I differ, and maintain that Freud’s interest in rationalism and the conquest of the libido in the Mosaic code is innately connected with his teachings as a whole and his arguments regarding man’s essential liberation from the repression of the libido, which causes irrational behavior. In my opinion, Freud’s praise of the rationalism that preceded monotheism and his acclaim of the idea of conquering one’s urge that this religion spread throughout the world do not contradict Freud’s belief that the religious path is undesirable, even if well-meaning. The libido is to be controlled in a wiser manner. 13 Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, in Freud, The Standard Edition of the Compete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. James Strachey (London: Hogarth, 1961), 21:7. 14 For Freud, religion was mainly a compulsive neurosis that originated in the repression of the primordial patricide. He asserted that religion’s obsessive occupation with the instincts is incorrect. Religious ritualism maintains the disparity between true psychological motives and the obsessive external behaviors that derive from them. According to Freud, psychoanalytical treatment of the repression of the libido



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overcoming and nullification of his urges, but their realization with wisdom and within the limits of the reasonable and the advisable. In Totem and Taboo, Freud laid the foundations for his claim that controlling instincts and morality belong to the essential content of religion with which they are intimately bound. The system of prohibitions in totemic religion (taboo) consists mainly of limitations that lay the foundation for moral boundaries. The ban on incest primarily creates the renunciation of one’s mother and sisters despite one’s desire for them; this is the beginning of the moral and social order. This recurs in the life of the child in modern times, as well, when the child is required by his father, both consciously and indirectly, to curb his desire for his mother. During adolescence, society and the superego assume the place of the father in the creation of authority that presses for renunciation of instinct.15 Freud’s discussion in Moses and Monotheism teaches that curbing one’s urges provides inner satisfaction as an alternative to sensual satisfaction. This is the preference of spirituality over sensuality, which is the source of the inner pride of one who overcomes instinct. This argument explains the specific contribution of this effort to distinguishing between outwardness, with its tempting pleasure and inwardness, which finds spiritual satisfaction in overcoming this outwardness. Freud’s description is at the basis of the insight that curbing one’s desires—which functions as a central principle in the religions of the ancient world and the monotheistic religions—is more than merely preserving the balance between the necessary and what is beyond the necessary, in Aristotle’s definition. It provides man with an inner spiritual satisfaction that could be perceived as replacing external, physical satisfaction. Such a perception is essential for understanding life’s inner existential aspects, and especially those of the religious life which are the topic of this book. The question of curbing desires is obviously connected with the broader issue of religious abstinence and asceticism. This significant phenomenon of inner religious life made a major contribution in the fashioning of the self and the subjective in religious cultures. is superior to the religious one, because psychoanalysis is scientific and rational. Freud believed that psychoanalysis would have greater success in dealing with man’s instinctual drives. As a rationalist, he wholeheartedly believed that a psychological analysis of behavior, based on psychoanalytical theory, can enable the patient to overcome his uncontrollable impulses. 15 Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism, trans. Katherine Jones (New York: Vintage, 1967), 119–20.

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As, however, Gavin Flood has recently shown, although religious asceticism is subordinate to specific religious traditions (and in that respect completely differs from the authentic and subjective perceptions of modern existentialism) it nevertheless possesses a clearly existential dimension.16 The singularity of inwardness inherent in asceticism is deserving of a separate discussion, which would exceed the purview of the current work.17 Within the limitations of the current discussion, it is noteworthy that the concept of the struggle against one’s urges, as, for example, in Sufism, that profoundly influenced the medieval Jewish musar (ethical instruction) literature, is of clearly existential nature, for a dual reason, as the following text alludes. The Sufis gave pride of place to the war against one’s inclinations and the abandonment of desires, which they understood as an inner war: God, may He be exalted, said: “But those who struggle in Our cause, surely We shall guide them in Our ways” [Quran 29:69], and Mujahed explained: This is the war against the soul. They asked the messenger of God, may he rest in peace: “Who is called a warrior?” It is related in the name of Hasan [al-Basri]: Warriors returned to the messenger of God from one of the raids. He said to them: “Blessed be your coming, and God’s blessing upon you! You have returned from the little war to the great war.” They asked him: “Messenger of God, what is the great war?” He replied: “Man’s war within his soul against his inclination, for the sake of God, may He be exalted.”18

The wording “war within the soul” reflects the conceptual interiorization of the concept of war against the enemies of Islam. Now, the war is internal. This notion regards inner struggle as a religious goal, with inner life deemed to be the realization of the will of God. The individual who struggles with his inclination is compared to a warrior who must fashion 16 Gavin D. Flood, The Ascetic Self: Subjectivity, Memory and Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 242. 17 See, for example, Vincent L. Wimbush and Richard Valentasis, Asceticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); Flood, Ascetic Self. For examples of texts reflecting asceticism in nascent Christianity, and especially in the Benedictine world, see Owen Chadwick, Owen. Western Asceticism (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1958). 18 A well-known Sufi teaching that has its source in the anonymous Sufi book Adab el-Maluk (The Way of the Kings), cited by Sviri, Sufis, 296.



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a personality strong enough to enable him to overcome himself. The sheer act of overcoming will, in fact, fill his life with deep meaning.

The Existentialist Viewpoint in Light of the Stoic Example The diverse traditions that relate to the conquest of one’s desires reflect differing levels of tension between one’s physical and emotional inclinations and intellective inner consciousness. It is the latter which is identified with the self and is perceived as loftier or more profound than physical and emotional inclinations (or as reflective of the superego, in Freudian terminology). In the sources that highlight this tension, we find, at times, a discussion of the proper relation of these two dimensions, so that they will not be seen as inimical and negating one another. The Stoic writings reflect this most clearly: Men seek out retreats for themselves in the country, by the seaside, on the mountains, and thou too art wont to long above all for such things. But all this is unphilosophical to the last degree, when thou canst at a moment’s notice retire into thyself. For nowhere can a man find a retreat more full of peace or more free from care than his own soul—above all if he have that within him, a steadfast look at which and he is at once in all good ease.19 Bear in mind that what pulls the strings is that Hidden Thing within us: that makes our speech, that our life, that, one may say, makes the man. Never in thy mental picture of it include the vessel that overlies it nor these organs that are appurtenances thereof. They are like the workman’s adze, only differing from it in being naturally attached to the body. Since indeed, severed from the Cause that bids them move and bids them stay, these parts are as useless as is the shuttle of the weaver, the pen of the writer, and the whip of the charioteer.20

The esteem shown for seclusion, man’s communion with his inner self, and this favoring of inner life—expressed, for instance, in inner thought and choice over outer matters, which are independent of man’s inner self, such as the body, possessions, or fame—are among the outstanding features 19 Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Communings 4:3. For Engish translation, see The Communings with Himself of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, trans. C. R. Haines, in Loeb Classical Library, vol. 58 (London: Heinemann, 1979), 66–69. 20 Ibid., 10:38 (trans.: 58:290–91). See also 7:28 (trans.: 58:176–77).

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of Stoicism. As, however, can be seen especially in the case of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Stoicism did not call for the abandonment of outer life, but for a change in the inner attitude to it. Epictetus was Marcus Aurelius’ spiritual teacher. His years of service to his master Epiphraditos had left him contemptuous of the despotism of the rich and man’s subjugation to his fellow man. He distinguished between what is given over to man’s free will and what is not within his control: What, then, does it mean to be getting an education? It means to be learning how to apply the natural preconceptions to particular cases, each to the other in conformity with nature, and, further, to make the distinction, that some things are under our control while others are not under our control. Under our control are moral purpose and all the acts of moral purpose; but not under our control are the body, the parts of the body, possessions, parents, brothers, children, country—in a word, all that with which we associate. Where, then, shall we place “the good”? To what class of things are we going to apply it? To the class of things that are under our control?21

The preference of inner over outer life is evident, first and foremost, in focusing on what is conditional upon free will, and is not dependent on the external data of the reality, to which all humans are subject. This distinction does not require the nullification of external life but rather the inversion of the accepted hierarchy of values: instead of concentrating on outer activity, which consists mainly of the accumulation of external power and property, the preference of contemplation imparts meaning to the outer world and thereby gives man inner strength. . . . some persons, like cattle, are interested in nothing but their fodder; for to all of you that concern yourselves with property and lands and slaves and one office or another, all this is nothing but fodder! And few in number are the men who attend the fair because they are fond of the spectacle. “What, then, is the universe,” they ask, “and who governs it? No one? Yet how can it be that, while it is impossible for a city or a household to remain even a very short time without someone to govern and care for it, nevertheless this great and beautiful structure should be kept in such orderly arrangement by sheer accident and chance? There must be, therefore, One who governs it. What kind of a being is He, and how does He govern it? And what are we, who have been created by Him, and for what purpose were we created? Do 21 Epictetus, Discourses 1:22 (trans.: 131:144–45).



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we, then, really have some contact and relation with Him or none at all?” That is the way these few are affected; and thenceforward they have leisure for this one thing only—to study well the “fair” of life before they leave it. With what result, then? They are laughed to scorn by the crowd, quite as in the real fair the mere spectators are laughed at by the traffickers; yes, and if the cattle themselves had any comprehension like ours of what was going on, they too would laugh at those who had wonder and admiration for anything but their fodder!22

Faith as Inner Trust in God in the Bible, Nascent Christianity, and Sufism Unlike the Stoic demand to change one’s attitude to the outer world, the Christian promotion of negating the importance of outer life (to the extent of abandoning care for it to the Lord’s mercies) is already evident in Jesus’ sermons that intensify the motif of Biblical belief that appears, for instance, in Psalms and Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord and do good, abide in the land and remain loyal”;23 “Leave all to the Lord; trust in Him; He will do it.”24 Jesus’ sermons in Matthew and Luke25 demonstrate a preference for a life of inner faith, to the extent of total trust in God and man’s total reliance on Him: Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? . . . Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.26

This inner mental state of total trust in God releases the believer from any worldly cares. Instead of a person devoting most of his efforts and energy to ensuring his physical existence with labor, commerce, and the like, Jesus calls upon his listeners to mainly direct their energy inward, to fortify their faith in their Father in Heaven. The Christological interpretation that Paul gave to the verse “the righteous shall live by his faith” (Hab. 22 23 24 25 26

Ibid., 2:14 (trans.: 131:312–15). Ps. 37:3. Ps. 37:5; “Entrust your affairs to the Lord, and your plans will succeed” (Prov. 16:3). Matthew 6:24–34; Luke 12:22–30. Matthew 6:26–34.

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2:4) corresponds with this belief, that is attributed to Jesus himself.27 Martin Buber developed the distinction between “to believe that” and “to believe in” as the axis for the Biblical conception of faith.28 The concept of faith in the Bible, according to this distinction, is a nonpropositional attitude. It is not directed to any claim, statement, or depiction in regard to God, but rather expresses an interpersonal relationship such as love, fear, commitment, and the like.29 Belief in God therefore denotes trust in Him. In medieval theological thought, the concept of belief came to express a propositional attitude to establishing a truth proposition of the existence of God and the truthfulness of various beliefs connected to religious doctrine. Moshe Halbertal, who agrees that a change occurred in the meaning of the term “belief ” in the medieval period, examines Buber’s argument, especially in the wake of Wittgenstein’s discussions of the attitude of faith.30 Halbertal noted the complexity of this attitude, beyond the dichotomy set forth by Buber,31 due mainly to his fear of a reduction of faith to positions or norms that come exclusively from the subject. Consequently, belief in the existence of God is not a description present in the world, but a normative claim about the world, that gives it a certain value, purpose, and even justification. In the final analysis, despite his reservations, Halbertal’s conclusion relies on Buber’s and Wittgenstein’s distinctions.32 The Muslim asceticism that gave birth to Sufism fashioned the principle of tawakkul [trust in God] under the influence of Christian monasticism, on the one hand, and Jewish-Eastern asceticism on the other. This 27 See Flusser, Jewish Sources, 378. 28 Martin Buber, Two Types of Faith, trans. Norman P. Goldhawk (London: Routledge and Paul, 1951). 29 A propositional attitude is a “relation to a proposition,” that is, it describes one of a number of possibilities for describing a certain person’s attitude to a claim. For example, “a person knows that X is a thief,” “a person surmises that X is a thief,” or “a person believes that X is a thief.” Belief as a concept that does not relate to propositional attitude means a type of attitude, such as love or fear, which is not directed to a claim, statement, or description. See Moshe Halbertal, “On the Faithful and Faith” [Heb], in On Faith: Studies in the Concept of Faith and Its History in the Jewish Tradition, ed. Moshe Halbertal, David Kurzweil, and Avi Sagi (Jerusalem: Keter, 2005), 12. 30 Ibid. 31 Ibid., 36. 32 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief, ed. Cyril Barret (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992). For Wittgenstein’s position, see Nehama K. Verbin, “Seeing-As and the Justification of Religious Belief: Reasons and Miracles,” Faith and Philosophy: Journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers 18 (2001): 501–22.



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principle calls for intense trust in God, that reaches the extreme level of quietism and complete apathy to any effort to satisfy material needs, even the most basic.33 Similar to its Christian counterpart, the Sufi notion of tawakkul undoubtedly generated a unique inner mood that is expressed in equanimity to all property, hunger, and physical want. Although the Christian and Muslim existential mindsets described above are not to be identified with modern philosophical existentialism, they share the awareness of the gap between the inner and the outer, which at times leads to the pronounced preference of the former over the latter. The discussion of the religious expressions of the focus on existential aspects in light of modern existentialist thought is based on this awareness. Inquiry of this sort is grounded in the assumption that, despite the substantive disparities between the various phenomena, as in the question of relating to the outer world and that of the status of religious-mystical experiences, the addressing of existential aspects of religious life and philosophical existentialism (that conducts a philosophical discussion of man in terms of self-contemplation) share a common denominator. Søren Kierkegaard, the founding father of existentialist religious philosophy in the nineteenth century, is the philosopher who molded the contemporary consciousness of the existential aspects of religious life. The relationship between these aspects and several modern philosophical existentialist positions regarding a number of fundamental issues is not to be taken for granted. I will now clarify this question as regards three topics: (1) the attitude to the outer world; (2) the attitude to mystical religious experiences; and (3) the relationship between subjectivity and immanence.

Existential Aspects of Religious Life and Modern Existentialism: The Attitude to the External World in Existentialist Thought Existentialist thought in the middle of the nineteenth century was characterized by its ironic and suspicious attitude to outer and social life. Ran Sigad defined this stance as follows: The discussion does not revolve around the connection between basics, but rather introspection in the inner world of the one who experiences and senses, for whom a phenomenon is not only something external, but also a personal and inexpressible sensation which nevertheless influences his life. 33 Goldziher, Introduction, 132.

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Furthermore, it generally seems to the existentialist that his inner sensation is much more significant for him than his common life with other people in the world; he also hates society and its generalizations because of the violence it demonstrates against him in order to produce from him what it deems good, according to its rules, as Hegel showed. The existentialist is for reverse violence, for the destruction of the general in favor of his incidental and arbitrary personality, that is characterized by its existing just like that, without explanation, and is not understood, neither by itself nor by others, and specifically as such it demands justification.34

According to Sigad, the antisocial nature of modern existentialist thought—that is, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche—is substantive for the existentialist nature of their doctrines. Despite this, as emerges from the above Stoic passages, Stoic existential interiorization is not conditional on the extreme attitude to the world characteristic of some modern existentialist philosophies. The Stoics did not view public obligations as an improper necessity, but as a natural one, the product of the social nature of the human race.35 A study, however, of Kierkegaard’s writings reveals his inner conflict on this point. Kierkegaard demanded the concealment of religious inwardness, which had to be independent of the outer act. Furthermore, concealing inwardness is a religious ideal of the first order. “True religiousness, just as God’s omnipresence is distinguishable by invisibility, is distinguishable by invisibility, that is, not to be seen.”36 In Fear and Trembling, in which Kierkegaard discusses the Binding of Isaac, the ideal of belief is presented as differing from the ideal of love of God. The believer lives within finitude, and therefore, for Kierkegaard, in the scene when Abraham regains Isaac: . . . his needing no preparation, no time to collect himself in finitude and its joy. If that was not the case with Abraham, then he perhaps loved God but

34 Ran Sigad, Studies in Existentialism [Heb] (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1975), 35–36. 35 Unlike the view of most modern existentialists. See the essay by Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism, trans. Philip Mairet (New York: Haskell House Publishers 1948). Following the Second World War, Sartre objected to the identification of existentialism generally with subjectivity that disregards human social affairs, and specifically, with quietism. 36 Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript in Philosophical Fragments, trans. and ed. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 475.



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did not believe, for whoever loves God without faith considers himself, but whoever loves God with faith considers God.37

Abraham’s greatness lies in his ability to act by faith within this, the outer world. His uniqueness is evident in his special stance regarding this world, which is not one of indifference and alienation, but that of one capable of acting in the world while clearly preferring inwardness. This is obvious in his faith, which at certain moments leads him to an exaltation that soars beyond this world. Abraham, who lives in his faith, is accordingly capable of enjoying the world, since he rejoices when he receives his son back, but this joy is different from that of someone who knows only this world. In Concluding Unscientific Postscript, as in Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard discusses the relationship between the outer and the inner, but his skepticism toward the external world increases: . . . the less externality, the more inwardness, if it is truly there; but it is also the case that the less externality, the greater the possibility that the inwardness will entirely fail to come. The externality is the watchman who awakens the sleeper; the externality is the solicitous mother who calls one; the externality is the roll call that brings the soldier to his feet; the externality is the reveille that helps one to make the great effort; but the absence of the externality can mean that the inwardness itself calls inwardly to a person—alas, but it can also mean that the inwardness will fail to come.38

Kierkegaard, the champion of the concealment of inwardness, was aware of the importance of external existence as a condition for the presence and veracity of the inner. Within the context of his critique of Christian monasticism, Kierkegaard developed his arguments against the extreme 37 Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, 30. See also the continuation (ibid., 34): “The knights of infinity are dancers and have elevation. They make the upward movement and drop down again, and this too is not an unhappy pastime nor unlovely to behold. But every time they drop down they cannot assume the posture at once; they hesitate an instant, and this hesitation shows that they are really strangers in the world. This is more or less conspicuous in proportion to their artistry, but even the most skillful of these knights still cannot hide this hesitation. One does not need to see them in the air but only at the instant they touch and have made contact with the ground to recognize them. But to be able to land in such a way that it looks as if one were simultaneously standing and walking, to transform the leap of life into a gait, absolutely to express the sublime in the pedestrian—that only the knight of faith can do—and that is the only miracle.” 38 Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, 382.

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outer-inner and physical-spiritual dichotomies in monastic culture that guide the monastic aspiration for detachment from the external: The individual does not cease to be a human being, does not take off the multitudinously compounded suit of finitude in order to put on the abstract attire of the monastery, but he does not meditate between the absolute telos and the finite. In immediacy, the individual is firmly rooted in the finite; when resignation is convinced that the individual has the absolute orientation toward the absolute telos, everything is changed, the roots are cut. He lives in the finite, but he does not have his life in it. His life, like the life of another, has the diverse predicates of a human existence, but he is within them like a person who walks in a stranger’s borrowed clothes. He is a stranger in the world of finitude, but he does not define his difference from worldliness by foreign dress.39

Kierkegaard’s reaction to Hegelian exteriorization and the false monastic interiorization led him to think more favorably of Stoicism. This, however, should be seen as an interim position before his finally taking a more ascetic direction toward the end of his lifetime. From as early as Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard had been wrestling with the Lutheran conception of absolute surrender which enables faith. For Kierkegaard, this model is the very embodiment of the absurd and the paradoxical, and at the end of his life, he apparently concluded that such a model is impossible. His final conclusion was that a return to the world is hypocritical and therefore inconceivable, which is evident also in his decision to renounce his engagement to Regine Olsen. Kierkegaard’s writings are replete with the tension between the Lutheran model of a return to the world in faith and the martyric model to which he adhered at the end of his life. As the ascetic element came to dominate his thought, he retreated from the ideal of the faith of Abraham. Kierkegaard’s failure to realize his profound wish to think positively of the world from the perspective of the believer might have been bound up with his general inability to adopt the ethical phase and realize it in his life. Although modern forms of existentialism cannot be categorically defined as negating the value of social and ethical life,40 they clearly tend 39 Ibid., 410. 40 See Walter Kaufmann’s trenchant criticism of Sartre’s characterization as existentialists of, not only himself, but also of a heterogeneous group of thinkers such as Kierkegaard, Gabriel Marcel, Hiedegger, Jaspers, and others: Kaufmann, “Existentialism (and



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to present inwardness as an alternative reality to the outer one. Although Dostoyevsky’s works, with Crime and Punishment at the fore, do not rely on a clearly formulated existentialism, they reflect an interiorization in which the inner motives for a person’s actions clash with what external circumstances would seem to dictate. Raskolnikov, who repeatedly wrestles with the question of whether to confess the murder he has committed, is prevented from admitting to his crime when interrogated by the police officer. He finally breaks when he comes once again to the police station, on his own volition, when he learns of the suicide of Svidrigailov, the one person who could have incriminated him. Raskolnikov’s confession comes precisely at the moment when external restraint has vanished.41 His inner doubts, originating in his psychological systems, prove decisive. When he thinks that his confession would be motivated by fear of the law, he lacks the mental energy to admit his crime, since his motives for the murder, too, were the fruit of inner processes, and indeed, he enjoyed no monetary gain from the murder of the old woman pawnbroker whom he despised.42 When he is left only with his inner guilt, with no possibility of being caught and tried on the basis of external testimonies, the murderer is compelled to willingly confess his crime and he begins a process of inner purification in prison.43 The complex existentialist attitude to social life is influenced by various factors. The preference for the inner instead of for the outer has consequences for the entire question of the attitude to the outer world, especially since in many instances this partiality clearly leads to reservations concerning, or even the negation of the external. Nonetheless, I do not think there is a necessary connection between existentialism and the negation of the

Phenomenology)” [Heb], in Modern Trends in Philosophy, ed. Asa Kasher and Shalom Lappin (Tel Aviv: Yahdav, 1982), 252–72, and esp. 256–57. 41 Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment, trans. David McDuff (London: Viking, 1991), 598–609. 42 Ibid., 594–95. 43 The demand to conceal moral behavior and to reduce its dependence on the external reality is close, too, to certain aspects of Kant’s moral conception. These ideas originate in nascent Christianity, when the believers were to combine inner faith with moral conscience. This combination reached its high point in the conceptions of Luther and Calvin, who, according to some scholars, significantly influenced Kantian ethics. The degree to which a person’s actions are moral depends, for Kant, on the intent to act in accordance with the inner moral demand. This demand is formulated in absolute terms that are independent of external conditions.

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outer. Conceptions that view the external in a positive light, as well, can share in the existentialist emphasis of the gap between inner and outer.

Existentialism and Mystical Experience Both mystics and existentialists have called for self-knowledge and inward contemplation over the course of time, but Kierkegaard drew into sharper focus than any preceding thinker the difference between various types of self-knowledge and the inward journey to man’s soul and very being. Kierkegaard’s existentialist successors find a substantive distinction between existential interiorization and the quest for mystical connection and amalgamation of a nonsensory and ecstatic character with God or the world. In his analysis of Kierkegaard’s Journals, Sagi describes the nature of the philosopher’ interiorization, which does not rely on a mysticism that breaches the bounds of human existence: The basis for finding the self, therefore, is not the knowledge and collection of many details, but a person’s inner action through which he finds himself. The inward turning is primarily expressed in concentration on the self, on my existence, the search for the Archimedian point that give meaning to the assemblage of details of the diverse experiences and turn them into a whole, organic system. Only a person who reaches that basic point that enables him to understand himself in his existence will be capable of bearing existence and not retreating from it and be dissipated within a nonauthentic reality.44

A study of some passages from Kierkegaard’s Journals indicates that when he was in his twenties, a mystical experiential element, too, impacted the fashioning of his existentialist worldview. Such experiences, however, were rare, and their influence was much less than, for instance, that of his experience of exposure to his father’s sin. Still, some Kierkegaard scholars noted a specific experience of a mystical nature that apparently led to a shift in his worldview and way of life when he was about twenty-five years old.45 44 Avi Sagi, Kierkegaard: Religion and Existence—The Voyage of the Self, trans. Batya Stein (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000), 15–16. Cf. the narrative that Kierkegaard includes at the end of Concluding Unscientific Postscript, 615–16. 45 Søren Kierkegaard wrote in his journal (see The Journals of Søren Kierkegaard, trans. Alexander Dru [New York: Harper, 1959], 59) on May 19, 1838: “There is an indescribable joy which enkindles us as inexplicably as the apostle’s outburst comes gratuitously: “Rejoice I say unto you, and again I say unto you rejoice” [Phil. 4:4].—Not a joy over this or that but the soul’s mighty song “with tongue and



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In 1844 Kierkegaard published a collection of sermons, including “The Thorn in the Flesh,” in which he critiqued Paul’s mystical experience; and emphasized the inherent existential flaw of such experiences, relating it to their vain aspiration to exceed the boundaries of human existence. Mystical experience, like aesthetic experience, is distinguished by its detachment from the continuum of life and its liberation from commitment to the world, and is therefore invalid from an ethical perspective.46 Toward the end of his life Kierkegaard once more turned to the experiential, but as an inner relationship to the eternal. In Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments, he opposed basic universal religiosity (religiosity of type A) to Christian religiosity (religiosity of type B, that is characterized by its paradoxical dialectical nature), the former being an inner existential attitude to the eternal that typifies the human race.47 Generally speaking, Kierkegaard—the existentialist believer—was very reserved regarding mystical life. Mystical experience arouses the individual’s attention to the inner, but its undiscriminating nature does not allow for the existence of an independent consciousness of the self.48 His objection to the mystical is reminiscent of Buber’s transition from mysticism to dialogue. Buber’s self-criticism concerning his personal mystical experiences spurred his transition from the mystical to the existential.49 Unlike the above direction, from the mystical to the existential, the general call to prefer the inner instead of the outer that characterizes the Stoic writings led the emperor Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic philosopher, to mouth, from the bottom of the heart”; “I rejoice through my joy, in, at, with, over, by, and with my joy”—a heavenly refrain, as it were, suddenly breaks off our other song; a joy which cools and refreshes us like a breath of wind, a wave of air, from the trade wind which blows from the plains of Mamre to the everlasting habitations.” Jacob Golomb compares Kierkegaard’s feelings here to an experience of Pascal’s; see Jacob Golomb’s introduction to the Hebrew translation of Fear and Trembling: Frygt og Baeven, trans. Eyal Levin, ed. Jacob Golomb (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1997), xiii. 46 See David Brezis, Kierkegaard et les figures de la Paternite (Paris: Cerf, 1999). 47 Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, 509. See Tamar Aylat-Yaguri, Human Dialogue with the Absolute: Kierkegaard’s Ladder to the Climax of Spiritual Essence [Heb] (Jerusalem: Magnes, 2008), 99–142. 48 Jean-Paul Sartre, The Transcendence of the Ego: An Existentialist Theory of Consciousness, trans. Forrest Williams and Robert Kirkpatrick (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969), 83–86. 49 According to Samuel Hugo Bergmann, Buber’s life and thought reflect his transition from mysticism to dialogical philosophy. See Bergmann, Dialogical Philosophy: From Kierkegaard to Buber, trans. Arnold A. Gerstein (Albany: SUNY Press, 1991), 217–38.

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the threshold of a mystical experience of the type that Otto called “the unifying vision”:50 All things are mutually intertwined, and the tie is sacred, and scarcely anything is alien the one to the other. For all things have been ranged side by side, and together help to order one ordered Universe. For there is both one Universe, made up of all things, and one God immanent in all things, and one Substance, and one Law, one Reason common to all intelligent creatures, and one Truth: if indeed there is also one perfecting of living creatures that have the same origin and share the same reason.51

Just as some modern existentialists reach their philosophy out of their unease with the mystical, other writings—for example, Stoic works, which too are characterized by their existential interiorization—sometimes reflect opposing orientations. The claimed contradiction between existentialist thought that places the individual at the center, facing the world, and philosophies that go so far as having the individual merging with the divine and/or the world originates in the fact that modern existentialist thought from the time of Kierkegaard has been based on Kant. The religious thought of the pre-Kantian world, in which the question of the subject had yet to be posed in full force, contains worldviews that incorporate existentialist conceptions and mystical wishes for ecstatic liberation from physical consciousness. From another perspective, however, one that examines the relationship between Kierkegaard’s religious existentialist thought and the philosophy of immanent existentialists, such as Heidegger’s, the difference between subjectivity and immanence assumes importance.

The Relationship between Subjectivity and Immanence in Existentialist Thought If the subjectivist conception characteristic of existentialist thought demands immanence that negates any possible transcendence, then transcendental religious notions have no place in this context. We therefore should clarify this question before examining the existential aspects of the Jewish sources. 50 See Otto, East and West, 38–53. 51 Marcus Aurelius, Communings, 7:9 (trans.: v58:168–69); see also 7:13 (trans.: 5:168– 71); 4:23 (trans.: vols. 80–81). See also Nathan Spiegel, Marcus Aurelius, Emperor and Philosopher [Heb] (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1980), 142–43.



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The “attitude of faith,” as Kierkegaard called the proper religious stance, requires man to turn inward in order to exist religiously. Although Kierkegaard placed great emphasis on the subjective dimension of the religious experience—as did Augustine in his Confessions—he was aware of God’s absolute transcendence and the impossibility of His becoming an object of consciousness. Presumably, because of the difficulty in resolving the demand to find God in a person’s inner self and His perception as completely external to man, it could be argued that, in practice, any such demand makes God immanent. Kierkegaard offers a highly complex and sophisticated response to this problem: the subjective experience of faith does not limit the infinite chasm between man and God. To the contrary: it highlights this distance. What man finds within himself is not God, but the possibility of addressing Him. In other words, true religiosity is expressed in realizing man’s ability, as a finite and immanent creature, to aspire to the transcendental, to long for it, and to respond to it. The inward look does not reveal God to us, but rather the correct attitude to Him, through which, and only through which, we experience true faith.52 Avi Sagi finely summarized this position: “The subjectivist digression should not be considered as a claim that God becomes immanent or identical with the immanent. The activity is totally subjective, because its content is totally transcendent.”53 Although many modern existentialists, headed by Heidegger, turned to a distinctly immanent orientation, Kierkegaard’s explicit position on the issue teaches that existential aspects of religious life need not be identified with an immanent conception of God. In the epilogue that Hans Jonas added to the English version of his book on Gnosticism, he wrote of the affinity between some existentialist thinkers and Roman-period Gnostic writings. Mandaeist literature states that life was cast into the world, light into darkness, the soul into the body. This thought, that is in the background of the Gnostic concept of “pneuma” (the spirit that is beyond material negativity, beyond nature and all that is normative), is close to post-Kierkegaardian existentialism.54 Exploring a different direction, the following section will discuss the existential data in the Jewish sources that, in many instances,

52 Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, 199–200, 243–45. My thanks to Assaf Sagiv for drawing my attention to this reference. 53 Sagi, Kierkegaard, 144. 54 Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion: The Message of the Alien God and the Beginnings of Christianity (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963), 320–40.

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assume the existence of a God who is not exclusively transcendental, but rather has both transcendental and immanent aspects.

Existential Interiorizations in the Jewish Sources The Biblical Intensification of Inner Religious Sentiment A significant number of chapters from the book of Psalms contain nonsupplicatory verses of praise and thanksgiving; some of these verses are deeply infused with a religious feeling of closeness to God or of fierce longing for such closeness. Greenberg noted that chapters of this sort attest to a soul so filled with a consciousness of God that it has no desire to dissociate itself from such an awareness. “Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for many long years” (Ps. 23:6).55 Greenberg argues that the singularity of these verses lies in their not linking praise to supplication, unlike Biblical prayers such as II Sam. 7:22– 29, or the instruction given by R. Simlai in BT Berakhot 32a.56 Greenberg writes: Another singular quality of the Biblical psalms that distinguishes them from their counterparts in Babylonia and in Egypt is the multitude of invitations to thank and praise God . . . if the intent were simply to please or flatter, why were such wordings not used by the poets of Babylonia and Egypt? Were the poets of Israel more proficient in the ways of flattery?57

Greenberg’s view differs from that which sees the hymnal verses in Psalms as an integral part of the verbal formula that accompanied sacrificial rite, a view similar to the findings from the Mesopotamian world discussed by Hallo.58 Whether or not praise was part of the ancient rite, of all the verses from Psalms cited by Greenberg, we can distinguish between those 55 Greenberg groups together verses of praise, such as Ps. 92:2–3, 5–6; 103:2; 104:33, and those relating to closeness, such as Ps. 92:23; 29; 42–43 (Greenberg, On the Bible, 193–97). 56 Ibid., 193. 57 Ibid., 195–96. 58 See James L. Kugel, “Topics in the History of the Spirituality of the Psalms,” in Jewish Spirituality, vol. 1: From the Bible through the Middle Ages, ed. Arthur Green (New York: Crossroad, 1996), 125–29, based, inter alia, on William W. Hallo, “Letters, Prayers, and Letter-Prayers,” in Krone, ed., Proceedings of the Seventh World Congress of Jewish Studies, vol. 2: Studies in the Bible and the Ancient Near East, 17–27.



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of praise, that might possibly be linked to a verbal rite (or not), and those that, in their entirety, express the profound religious experience of devekut and closeness to God, or at the very least, the yearning for such an experience: “One thing I ask of the Lord, only that do I seek: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, to frequent His temple” (27:4); “My heart says: ‘Seek My face!’ O Lord, I seek Your face” (27:8); “My soul thirsts for God, the living God; O when will I come to appear before God!” (42:3); “I long, I yearn” (84:3).

The Interiorization of the Biblical Principle of Reward and Punishment, and the Advantage of Love over Fear Ire and anger, these also are abominations, and a sinful man will have possession of them. He who avenges will discover vengeance from the Lord, and when he observes carefully, he will carefully observe his sins. Forgive your neighbor a wrong, and then, when you petition, your sins will be pardoned. A person harbors wrath against a person— and will he seek healing from the Lord? Does he not have mercy on a person like himself and petition concerning his sins? His being flesh maintains ire— who will make atonement for his sins?.59

Flusser taught that this passage from Ben Sira is the earliest source for the beginning of what he termed “A New Sensitivity in Judaism.”60 Ben Sira implicitly has reservations regarding the principle of measure for measure that underlies the Biblical doctrine of reward and punishment. He rejects the principle of vengeance and calls for forgiveness based on an awareness of the weaknesses common to all, as is indicated by the question: “Does he not have mercy on a person like himself and petition concerning his sins?” Turning to God’s atonement and forgiveness assumes, for Ben Sira, that He is aware of man’s weaknesses. The principle of forgiveness should also apply to societal relations. This passage reflects a profound view of men and their world, and explicitly rejects the one-sided thought at the basis of the 59 Ben-Sira 27:30–28:5; trans.: Sirach, 742. 60 Flusser, Judaism, 469–89.

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principle of measure for measure, that tends to simple dichotomies of good and evil. “Be not like slaves that serve the master for the sake of receiving a reward, but be like slaves who serve the master not for the sake of receiving a reward; and let the fear of Heaven be upon you.”61 This dictum by Antigonus of Sokho teaches of the penetration of a more complex notion (that was expressed in this passage from Ben Sira) into the world of the first Tannaitic “Pairs” (the joint heads of the Sanhedrin). This conception was expressed in a new understanding of “the fear of Heaven.” Antigonus of Sokho perceives the anticipation of external reward for observing the Torah and its commandments as opposed to true piety. The reward for the observance of the Torah is an inner matter, and not any external recompense. Observance of the commandments with no expectation of reward is a higher value because it is undertaken out of inner purposes without the expectation of any external benefit. As Urbach has shown,62 Ben Azzai formulated these ideas in extreme fashion, one that totally disassociates a person’s moral-religious behavior from the fate and circumstances of his external life: “one commandment draws another commandment in its wake, and one transgression draws another transgression in its wake, for the reward of a commandment is a commandment, and the reward of one transgression is another transgression.”63 Observance of the commandments is a purely inner affair, and is not to be connected to external reward and punishment.64 This thinking deeply affected the world of the rabbis and appears in many places in their literature: R. Eliezer son of R. Zaddok says: Do [good] deeds for the sake of their Maker, and speak of them for their own sake. Do not make of them a crown to aggrandize yourself, nor a spade to dig with. This is an a minori ad majus inference: If Belshazzar, who merely used the holy vessels that had been

61 M Avot 1:3. 62 Ephraim Elimelech Urbach, “Studies in Rabbinic Views Concerning Divine Providence” [Heb], in Yehezkel Kaufmann Jubilee Volume: Studies in Bible and Jewish Religion, ed. Menahem Haran (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1960), Hebrew section 471–73. 63 M Avot 2:4. 64 Kaminka, Studies in the Bible, 50. Kaminka found the Stoic parallel of this teaching in the letters of Seneca: “the reward for all the virtues lies in the virtues themselves” (Seneca, Epistulae Morales, epistle 81; trans.: 75:230–31).



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profaned, was uprooted from the world, how much more so for the one who makes use of the crown of the Torah!65 R. Meir says: It is said of Job, “he feared God” [Job 1:1], and it is said of Abraham, “you fear God” [Gen. 22:12]. Just as the fearing of God said of Abraham is from love, so too, the said fearing of God of Job is from love.66

No one is beloved as much as the religious from love, like Abraham. Our forefather Abraham turned the evil instincts into good ones as it is written (Neh. 9:8): “You found his heart trustworthy before You.”67 Rashi comments on the wording “the religious [literally, ‘keeping away’] from love”: “Keeping away from the love of reward for the commandments, and not from love of the Creator’s commandments.”68 The preference of inner motives over outer ones is common to all the above sources. The Mishnah (Kiddushin 1:10) addresses the issue of reward and punishment as follows: “If a person performs but a single commandment it shall be well with him, and he shall enjoy longevity and he shall inherit the land; but anyone who neglects a single commandment, it shall not be well with him, he shall not enjoy longevity, and he shall not inherit the Land.” The Babylonian Talmud’s discussion of this passage, however, is focused on R. Jacob’s assertion: “There is no reward for the commandments in this world.”69 Unlike Ben Azzai, R. Jacob resolves the problem of Divine Providence by stating that the reward for observance does not exist in this world, but is to be found in the World to Come and at the Resurrection of the Dead.70 The Talmud states that R. Jacob was the maternal grandson of Elisha ben Abuyah, who became known as “Aher” [the “Other”] following his heresy concerning the Biblical principle of reward and punishment. The Talmud’s comment about Elisha ben Abuyah, that is attributed to R. Joseph, that “if Aher [= Elisha ben Abuyah] had expounded this verse as had R. 65 BT Nedarim 62a. 66 BT Sotah 31a. 67 PT Berakhot 9:6. For English translation, see The Jerusalem Talmud. First Order: Zeraim. Tractate Berakhot, ed. and trans. Heinrich W. Guggenheimer (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2000), 672–73. 68 Rashi to BT Sotah 22b, s.v. Parush me-Ahavah. See also Sifre on Deuteronomy 5:32, ed. Finkelstein, 13, 54. 69 BT Kiddushin 39b; Hullin 142a. See Urbach, “Studies in Rabbinic Views,” 472 n. 42. 70 “There is not a single commandment that is written in the Torah whose reward is [written] at its side on which the Resurrection of the Dead is not dependent” (BT Kiddushin 39b).

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Jacob, the son of his daughter, he would not have sinned” connects Elisha ben Abuyah’s heresy regarding Divine Providence in this world and the solution offered by his grandson R. Jacob. If Elisha ben Abuyah had maintained that reward and punishment are reserved for the World to Come, and are not applicable in this world, he would not have become an apostate. Even though R. Jacob’s solution could have sufficed in order to resolve Elisha ben Abuyah’s qualms regarding Divine Providence, the Talmudic discussion continues, and prescribes: A person should always regard himself as though he were half liable and half meritorious. If he observes a single commandment, he is happy for tipping the scales to merit; if he commits a single transgression, woe to him for tipping the scales to guilt, as it is said, “but one sinner destroys much good” [Eccl. 9:18].71

In contrast with the Mishnaic teaching that emphasizes the reward or punishment for each commandment or transgression, this dictum stresses the personal happiness of one who observes a commandment, as compared with the sense of loss felt by the transgressor. I do not mean to argue that this dictum reflects a release from the conception of external reward and punishment, but, like the teaching that “the reward of a commandment is a commandment,” it, too, focuses on a person’s inner sensation. The counsel it gives is to always live with the feeling that every act is capable of tipping the scales one way or the other. This worldview shifts the center of attention from the anticipation of reward or the fear of punishment to the inner satisfaction ensuing from the very decision in favor of good or evil in each of a person’s actions. The continuation of the Talmudic discussion, that is cited in the name of R. Eleazar the son of R. Simeon, supports my argument, since he says: Because the world is judged according to its majority, and an individual is judged according to his majority [of good or bad deeds], if a person observes a single commandment, happy is he for tipping the scales for him and for all the world to merit; if he commits a single sin, woe to him, for tipping the scales for him and for all the world for liability, as it is said, “but one sinner, etc.” On account of the single sin that this one committed, he and the whole world lose much good.72 71 BT Kiddushin 40a–b. 72 BT Kiddushin 40b.



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This dictum further reinforces the sense of responsibility. The counsel to the individual to view each action of his as tipping all the scales, for liability or for merit, now becomes a cosmic conception. R. Eleazar’s advice is that the individual perceive his action as decisive for the entire world, to the side of merit or the side of liability, thereby vastly amplifying the individual’s responsibility. The transition to imagery of universal scales that are influenced by each and every action of the individual completely dwarfs the personal significance of reward and punishment, and shifts the center of gravity to the very deed itself. The shift in focus from the personal to the cosmic greatly weakens the personal significance of crime and punishment, since if an act exonerates or condemns the world, the weight of responsibility now occupies center stage, while the outer personal utility on which the principle of personal reward or punishment is founded is relegated to the sidelines. A person’s inner satisfaction is fueled by the sense of meaning imparted to every action that influences the entire world, and not only the individual. The seeming compromise of Rav’s principle of “not for its own sake,” that recurs in the Talmudic literature, actually reflects interiorization: “For R. Judah said, Rav said: A person should always be occupied with Torah and commandments, even not for their own sake, for out of [performance] not for its own sake comes [performance] for its own sake.”73 According to this accommodating teaching, outer action is not intrinsically worthy, and can be viewed in a favorable light only thanks to the optimistic assumption that the outer observance of a commandment is capable of undergoing change and finally become inner performance, that does not seek outer utility or reward. Rav’s dictum in the printed editions and in some of the manuscripts74 clearly indicates that, in his estimation as well, the observance of Torah and commandments out of external motives has no substantive worth.75 The personal prayer of R. Safra in the tractate of Berakhot concludes: “may all those who do so not for its own sake come to do so for its own sake.”76 Although this prayer is concerned with Torah study and not 73 BT Sanhedrin 105b; Horayot 10b. 74 See Urbach, Sages, 2:856 n. 94, on the differences between the manuscripts and the printed edition of some of these sources regarding the expression she-mitokh she-lo li-shma, which Urbach translates as “for from doing these things from other motives.” 75 For a parallel discussion of “Torah for its own sake,” see Solomon Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (Woodstock: Jewish Lights, 1993), 159–63; Urbach, Sages, 1:395–99. 76 BT Berakhot 16b–17a.

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with other commandments, the wording it shares with the teaching of Rav indicates a contentual affinity between the two. This prayer does not distinguish between Torah scholars who are God-fearing and those who are not, it rather may be understood as referring to those whose study is driven by ulterior motives. Medieval Jewish thought expanded the discussion of the inner motives of the fear of Heaven, and the rabbinic dicta cited above were not interpreted literally. A study of Sha‘arei Orah reveals both continuity and change on the question of outer and inner fear of Heaven: Know that love and fear that are bound up in the service of the Lord are the same matter, for fear has two aspects: there is outer fear, and there is inner fear. Outer fear: if a person has not perceived the greatness of the Lord, may He be blessed, and he worships out of fear of punishment and tribulations, this is outer fear. He is like one who prevents himself from killing or from stealing out of fear, lest he be killed. This fear is not certain, but nevertheless has good intent. Notwithstanding this, there is inner fear that is greater than it, which is fear that comes from understanding. How so? If a person merits to fathom the greatness of the Lord, may He be blessed, and the force of His amazing and beneficial wonders, His attributes, and the sorts of [divine] bounty and blessings that directly ensue from his knowledge of Him and His attributes—when he is conscious of His loftiness, he will be aware of the deficiency of his own body, which is a worm and maggot. Then he will be affrighted, and fear rebelling against a great King as Him. He will say: Who has brought me this far, to recognize and gaze upon the great and awesome King, the King who enthrones kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, while I am a base, worthless, and contemptible creature? What am I, what is my life, to be worthy of the exalted greatness of this place? Accordingly, he fears lest he not be worthy to be accepted in the palace of the King who enthrones kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. . . . This is the fear that was ascribed to Abraham after he underwent ten tests, all of which he accepted with love, as it is said: “For now I know that you fear God” [Gen. 22:12]. This is the attribute of which none is more exalted, and it is greater than love. This is the trait of fear that adheres to the Sefirah of the letter yud, which is the secret of will and thought.77 77 Gikatilla, Sha‘arei Orah, sha‘ar 9, 100–101. For more on inner vision, see, for example, De-Vidas, Re’shit Ḥokhmah, Sha‘ar ha-Yirah 1. On love, see the sources that De-Vidas brings, Re’shit Ḥokhmah, Sha‘ar ha-Ahavah 1:1–26, ed. Waldman, 1:345–61.



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In the first half of the eighteenth century, R. Moses Hayyim Luzzatto intensified the interiorization processes in Kabbalistic thought, and his words on the principle of reward and punishment mark the apex of its interiorization: “. . . good deeds incorporate an intrinsic quality of perfection and excellence in man’s body and soul. Evil deeds, on the other hand, incorporate in him a quality of insensitivity and deficiency.”78 A different development, that more strongly evinces the evolution of existential approaches resulting from a philosophical worldview, is to be found in the Maimonidean conception of Divine Providence.79 This notion will be discussed at greater length in the following chapter, on “Epistemological Interiorization.”80

The Doctrine of the Two Yetzarim The two Biblical verses in which the term yetzer [often rendered “inclination”] appears, not only as thought, propensity, or neutral nature, but in negative senses: “every plan [yetzer] devised by his mind was nothing but evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5) and “the devisings of man’s mind [yetzer lev] are evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21) do not state that the yetzer itself is evil, but that it is revealed to God as such. These verses reflect an absolute deterministic approach regarding man’s freedom vis-a-vis his yetzer, that is, his nature.81 Ben Sira, which was written in the first half of the second century BCE, retains the Biblical meaning of this term as human nature, but with a noticeable change: man’s inner motive force is now presented as one that gives him the ability to choose good or evil: It was he [= the Lord] who from the beginning made humankind, and he left him in the hand of his deliberation. If you want to, you shall preserve the commandments, ........................................... Before humans are life and death, 78 Moses Hayyim Luzatto, Derekh Hashem, part 2, chap. 2, para. 5. For English translation, see Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, Derech haShem: The Way of God, trans. Aryeh Kaplan (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 1988), 100–101. 79 Maimonides, Guide 3:51. 80 See below, chapter six, 488–92. 81 Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, trans. Israel Abrahams (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1961–1964), vol. 1: From Adam to Noah: A Commentary on Genesis I–VI 8, 303; and vol. 2: From Noah to Abraham: Genesis VI 9–XI 32, 120–21.

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and whichever one he desires will be given to him.82

And in the continuation: “He did not command anyone to be impious, / and he did not give anyone leave to sin.”83 In this text the word yetzer is of neutral moral worth. Other texts, that are slightly later than Ben Sira, already speak of two opposing elements present in the human psyche that struggle against one another. For example, we find in the Testament of the Tribes, a Jewish Hellenistic composition from the second half of the same century: God has granted two ways to the sons of men, two mind-sets, two lines of action, two models, and two goals. Accordingly, everything is in pairs, the one over against the other. The two ways are good and evil; concerning them are two dispositions within our breasts that choose between them.84

Despite the marked difference between the monist conception of Ben Sira and the dualist thought of the Testament of the Tribes, both share an internalizing approach that assumes the existence of mental forces within man. Buber’s claim of the more introspective view of the yetzer in Talmudic literature85 is demonstrated in the various studies that concur with him and paint a detailed picture of the development of the inclinations doctrine in

82 Ben-Sira 15:14–17; trans.: Sirach, 731. See Ben-Sira, 97, 105, 137 for Segal’s interpretation of the word yetzer, which, here, means a natural inclination that can be either good or evil, a mental power, or the source of a person’s desires. 83 Ben-Sira 15:20; trans.: Sirach, 731. 84 Testament of Asher 1:3–5; trans.: Charlesworth, Pseudepigrapha, 1:816–17. See the entire discussion of the evil inclination in the Second Temple period literature in Daniel Boyarin, Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 67–70; Ishai Rosen-Zvi, Demonic Desires (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), 44–64. 85 Martin Buber, Good and Evil: Two Interpretations, trans. Ronald Gregor Smith (New York: Scribner’s, 1953), 94. See also the chapter “Imagination and Impulse,” ibid., 90–97.



Part Three: Thinking about the Inner

rabbinic thought.86 As Urbach observes, this doctrine, that was developed by the rabbis, is distinctly interiorizing.87 Ishai Rosen-Zvi finds in the world of the Tannaim two different perceptions of the yetzer. That of the school of R. Akiva, which speaks of a neutral inclination, is reflected in the statement: “R. Akiva says: The Torah spoke only against the [Evil] Inclination”;88 while the more widespread notion, that of the school of R. Ishmael, refers to the Evil Inclination. The first school of thought speaks of the yetzer in terms of the natural human inclination, that is the expected reaction of a person who is commanded by the Torah to perform actions that run counter to its nature and who is required to overcome it, for instance: “to make your enemy your friend.”89 The term “Evil Inclination [yetzer ha-ra],” in contrast, as it is presented in exegeses in Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael and in Mekhilta de-Arayot, does not teach of the yetzer as a natural inclination, but as an antinomian entity that resides within man and incites him against the Torah.90 These distinctions between the different approaches in the Tannaitic literature to this term, as interesting as they may be, and the different understandings of it in Amoraitic literature,91 do not negate the earlier scholarly conclusions that the various texts relating to this issue commonly assume that these are inner, psychological contents that underlie human behavior as a whole, and especially religious conduct. Rosen-Zvi draws this distinction to show that the complexity in the world of the rabbis noted by Boyarin, following Porter,92 had its beginnings 86 F. C. Porter, “The Yecer Hara: A Study in the Jewish Doctrine of Sin,” in Biblical and Semitic Studies: Critical and Historical Essays by the Members of the Semitic and Biblical Faculty of Yale University (New York: Scribner’s, 1901), 93–156; Moore, Judaism, 474–96; Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, 242–92; Urbach, Sages, 1:471–83; G. H. Cohen-Stuart, The Struggle in Man between Good and Evil: An Inquiry into the Origin of the Rabbinic Concept of Yeser Hara (Kampen: Kok, 1984); Boyarin, Carnal Israel, 61–76; Jonathan Wyn Schofer, The Making of a Sage: A Study of Rabbinic Ethics (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005), 84–115; Rosen-Zvi, Demonic Desires. 87 Urbach, Sages, 1:471–72. 88 Sifra, Megillat Aharei Mot 11:1, ed. Weiss, fol. 90b. 89 Mekhilta d’Rabbi Sim‘on b. Jochai on Exod. 23:4, ed. Epstein and Melamed, 215 (trans.: Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, 359–60). See Rosen-Zvi, “School of R. Ishmael,” 43–44. 90 Rosen-Zvi, Demonic Desires, 18–26; idem, “School of R. Ishmael,” 44–47. 91 See Cohen-Stuart, Struggle in Man; Rosen-Zvi, Demonic Desires, 65–86; idem, “School of R. Ishmael”; idem, “Rereading the Yetzer in Amoraic Literature” [Heb], Tarbiz 77 (2007–2008): 71–107. 92 Porter, “Yecer Hara,” 115 ff., esp. 120.

Existential Aspects of Inner Religious Life  •  CHAPTER FIVE

in the teachings of the Tannaim. Boyarin writes of the existence in the rabbinic world of two irreconcilable psychological views: a mainly good-evil dualistic approach, with good and evil in constant struggle between them; and a more monist conception, that assumes that the force present within people that causes them to build and create is the same power that leads them to evil and destruction.93 For Rosen-Zvi, R. Ishmael’s image of the Evil Inclination and the battle against it are a development of this term that led to its perception as an independent entity that struggles with man. The Evil Inclination is therefore presented in this school as an autonomous entity, distinct from man, even though it dwells within his body.94 He defines this phenomenon as, to some extent, externalization, that makes it possible to separate the person himself, who aspires to overcome his desire, and the Inclination, such as the midrash on Boaz in Sifre: “As the Lord lives” Lie down until morning [Ruth 3:13]—for the Evil Inclination was sitting and importuning him the entire night. It said to him: You are unmarried and want a woman, and she is unmarried and wants a man. You have learned that a woman is acquired by sexual intercourse, go and have sexual relations with her, and she will be your wife. He took an oath against his Evil Inclination and said to it: “As the Lord lives—if I will touch her”; and to the woman he said: “Lie down until morning.”95

This disassociation from the Inclination enables Boaz to assume that it is not he who lusts, but his Inclination, since Boaz is presented as being on the other side of the divide, as struggling with his Inclination and seeking to control it. Rosen-Zvi maintains that R. Ishmael’s transformation of the yetzer to the Evil Inclination, as an independent entity of demonic character, was an original Tannaitic creation. Since, however, the term “demon” is usually not reserved solely for a discrete entity, but also refers to an independence that facilitates the demon’s existence outside man, it seems that

93 Boyarin, Carnal Israel, 64–67. See also Mordechai Rotenberg, The Yetzer: A Kabbalistic Psychology of Eroticism and Human Sex (Northvale: Jason Aronson, 1997), 59–70, who compares the connection between the evil inclination and creativity manifested in rabbinic thought and in the Kabbalistic and Hasidic sources with Freud’s biological and dualistic perception of instinctual urges. 94 Rosen-Zvi, Demonic Desires,76. 95 Sifre on Numbers, Behalaalotekha 88. Cf. Lev. Rabbah 23:11, ed. Margulies, 544–45; Ruth Rabbah 6:8. See also the analysis by Rosen-Zvi, Demonic Desires, 18–26; ibid, “School of R. Ishmael,” 49–50.



Part Three: Thinking about the Inner

in Tannaitic literature the Evil Inclination has only the potential to become a demon. Rosen-Zvi writes that the Tannaitic concept is unique in that, on the one hand, it rejects the innocent model of Ben Sira, while, on the other, it also negates the cosmological-dualist Qumran pattern. In his opinion, the appearance of the Evil Inclination in the Tannaitic literature is an additional outstanding example of the rise of the inner dimension as the main definer of man. The dangers lying in wait for man and the struggles that he wages are not only outside him, they are also within him.96

Although the meaning of the term “inclination” is much more limited in Freudian theory, and refers mainly to the (instinctive) biological sexual impulse present in the id, drawing a parallel between Freud’s theory of personality and the rabbinic inclinations doctrine can aid in understanding the place of the inclination in the world of the rabbis. While the external mandates of the Torah parallel the Freudian superego, which is an interiorization of outer demands, the place of the inclinations in the world of the rabbis corresponds to the id, which for Freud is the place of the urge, located within man’s psyche. In the world of the rabbis, the self is to identify with the Torah and not surrender to the demands of the inner inclinations, according to one approach, or, according to another, to enlist these inclinations to fulfill the demands of the Torah. In order to understand the wealth of meaning given to the yetzer in later Jewish sources, we should examine the few Tannaitic sources in which the yetzer in general, and especially the Evil Inclination, are assigned broader meanings than the antinomian one given it particularly by the school of R. Ishmael, and which became the commonest meaning in the rabbinic literature. These texts would, in later periods, become a source of inspiration for expanding the meanings of the term, as we will see below.

The Story of R. Simeon the Righteous about the Nazirite from the South [R.] Simeon the Righteous said: In my life I ate a [Nazirite] guilt-offering only a single time. It happened that a person [came] to me from the South. [I saw] that he had beautiful eyes, a handsome face, and curly locks. I said to him, why did you see fit to destroy this lovely hair? He, too, [said] to me: I 96 Rosen-Zvi, “School of R. Ishmael,” 78.

Existential Aspects of Inner Religious Life  •  CHAPTER FIVE

was a shepherd in my city, and I went to fill [water] from the spring. I looked at [my reflection], and my Inclination rose within me, and sought to drive me from the world. [I said to it]: Wicked one, you should not be jealous of what is not yours, of something that will turn into dust, corruption, and worms. Behold, I undertake to shave you off for [the sake of] Heaven. I patted my head [and kissed him]. I said: May those like you multiply, who do the will of the Omnipresent in Israel. In you [the verse (Num. 6:2) is fulfilled:] “If anyone, man [or woman], explicitly utters a Nazirite’s vow, to set himself apart for the Lord.”97

This narrative was discussed extensively in scholarly literature.98 What is of importance for our discussion is the realization of both the Nazirite from the South and R. Simeon the Righteous of the necessity here to cancel an explicit, but outer, obligation in order to maintain inner religious authenticity. Indeed, the very reason that the Nazarite had long hair, and therefore was mo